Irene Barn can see a lot of similarities between her native Australia and her present home in Inner Mongolia - not least that both are prone to sandstorms.
After the sandstorms which swept across north China last week, Barn's work in Bayan Hot Town of the Alxa League, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has become the focus of attention.
In Inner Mongolia where sand-storms usually originate, Barn, an ecology expert, has developed an attachment to the local people and their efforts in fighting desert-ification, Xinhua news agency reported.
"I am quite adapted to the life here and there is not much difference from rural towns in Australia," said Barn in standard Mandarin.
Coming to China for a Sino-Australian ecological improvement program which started in June 2001, Barn and her colleagues have brought innovative new thinking to the treatment of the environment.
First is the mobilization of 58,000 herdsmen and farmers in the League whom Phil Waiiens, the project leader from Australia, has declared the "immediate beneficiaries" of a better environment.
Waiiens believes that only after these people feel willing to join the program and learn to tap local ecological resources scientifically can sustainable development be achieved.
"Currently," he said, "most ecological projects in developing countries, including China, are often implemented through administrative orders which have not given sufficient emphasis to the grassroots people or the immediate beneficiaries of those projects."
So in Alxa, a major job for these foreign ecological experts is to join with governmental agencies and scientific institutions to help villages tackle their environmental problems, reduce the pressure of human activity on nature and become richer. Every village is treated as a community within which people are all encouraged to contribute and benefit, said Waiiens.
As Buddhism has a huge influence on people's lives, lamas from local temples are sent to the Dai Auto-nomous Prefecture of Xishuang-banna in Yunnan Province to learn how Buddhism can influence people's environmental concepts.
After their return, these lamas become convincing advocates of environment-friendly farming and stockbreeding in Alxa, Xinhua said.
The Sino-Australian program also includes many sub-projects like re-building three greenbelts in Alxa, slashing the silt content of the Yellow River, constructing water-efficient irrigation facilities and spreading the use of solar energy.
Financed by the five-year program with an investment of more than 100 million yuan (US$12.05 million), some 100 households in the Alxa League have been equipped with solar power systems.
"We operate according to the old saying, why give a man fish when you can teach him how to fish," said Barn.
(eastday.com March 23, 2002)