China will invest more than 200 million yuan (US$24 million) in the next decade to build the country's first large-scale oasis for settlers in the southern rim of Alxa, in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
More than 20,000 herdsmen needing protection from sandstorms in the world's fourth largest desert will move to the settlement.
Yang Gensheng, a biologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said on Monday that building the oasis was like "transplanting a 'biological lung' in the Alxa Desert, one of China's four major sources of sandstorms."
He said the oasis is expected to reduce dust-storm days by 10 per cent in the autonomous region's neighbouring areas, and revitalize part of the Alxa Desert.
The settlement will cover 70,000 hectares, equating to two-thirds of Hong Kong's total space. Irrigation water will come from the upper reaches of the Yellow River, 44 kilometres away from the oasis.
The local government plans to plant 4,700 hectares of wind and sand-proof trees, and reclaim 10,000 hectares of farmland in the oasis. It will resettle a total of 25,000 herdsmen from the nearby desiccated pastures.
Half the number of herdsmen in the Alxa League will be moved to the oasis.
The Chinese Government has already invested more than 100 million yuan (US$12 million) to build irrigation networks and power installations for the oasis.
About 5,000 herdsmen have already settled there and are growing some 5,000 hectares of crops, vegetables and lucerne: an environmentally friendly forage grass.
Full irrigation channels have opened, and green lucerne and wheat seedlings have formed a sharp contrast with the yellow sand beyond the farmland.
Dozens of shops and inns are operational along a kilometre-long "town centre" in the oasis.
The Alxa League covers 270,000 square kilometres of land, including 80,000 square kilometres of desert.
Due to decreasing rainfall and excessive grazing by domestic animals, the amount of desiccated land in Alxa increases by 1,000 square kilometres each year.
The only option is to settle scattered herdsmen and let arid pastures revive.
He Yulong, 45, moved to the oasis with three other family members from another part of the Alxa Desert two years ago. He, like all the other people resettled, was provided with a 40-square-metre house, a 60-square-metre sheep pen and 2 hectares of farmland, all without charge.
Chen Lijie, a top official of Gargol Saihan Town - where the oasis is located - said the settlement oasis is not only an environmental project but also an aid project. He claimed, so far, 60 per cent of the resettled herdsmen had doubled their annual incomes and more than 90 per cent of the settlers had visibly improved their living conditions.
He emphasized that the average annual flow capacity of the Yellow River in the past few years stood at 56 billion cubic metres, while the 10,000 hectares of irrigable land in the oasis would use less than 80 million cubic metres of river water. "So the water consumption of the oasis will not influence the flow in the lower reaches of the river," he said.
(China Daily May 8, 2002)