In an attempt to further cut the use of wood and fossil fuels, a project to build more mini-hydropower plants is being boosted.
The plan is aimed at encouraging millions of farmers across China to use the environmentally friendly energy and hopefully further reduce damage to forests and the eco-system.
The Ministry of Water Resources which is behind the plan, is working on the building of small-scale hydropower stations which can supply electricity to rural areas, sources with the ministry confirmed Wednesday.
It will mean 104 million people living in 886 counties across 25 provinces and autonomous regions will have an electricity supply to meet their daily fuel needs. This far less polluting source of energy will not only be a plus for the environment, but will boost the rural economy through the development of township enterprises and by-product processing.
The majority of rural residents affected live in areas where a logging ban has been in effect since 1998. In these areas natural forests with steep hill farmlands have been converted to woodland to halt further water and soil erosion.
Over-logging, reclamation of steep hill areas and massive levels of firewood cutting are the major factors that have resulted in the destruction of these areas of forestry and vegetation cover, experts say.
Although the logging ban, coupled with woodland reconstruction, has brought many of these problems under control, the difficulties caused by farmers continuing to burn wood remains an issue.
Annually, 5.6 million hectares of forests were burnt by about 112 million rural people who had no other source of fuel for cooking and heating, according to statistics released by the ministry.
"This not only destroyed local eco-systems, but also seriously polluted the environment," the latest official report stated.
In 2001 alone, 171 tons of twig bundles - the equivalent of about 228 million cubic metres of timber - were burned by farmers throughout China, spelling a major consumption of the nation's forests.
A group of experts headed by Xu Qianqing, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, urged the Ministry of Water Resources, at a recent seminar held in Beijing, to launch the hydropower project.
Electricity supplied by small hydropower stations is an effective means of providing the basic daily fuel needs for farmers in remote areas and also prevent worsening of the eco-environment, the experts said.
Electricity from small-scale hydropower stations has become a popular, renewable energy resource globally, they added.
China's exploitable hydropower potential is estimated to be about 87 million kilowatts, ranking it the largest in the world, according to the Ministry of Water Resources, with potential in western China's impoverished regions alone estimated at more than 58.2 million kilowatts, or 67 per cent of China's total.
However, only 29 per cent of China's hydropower resources have, to date, been exploited, far less than in some developed countries. While on the other hand, around 75 million rural people still have no access to power.
Most of the potential resources are located in China's mountainous areas and foothills, the key areas where substitute energy is vital for protecting eco-systems from the ongoing destructive affects of firewood cutting, the experts said.
(People's Daily October 10, 2002)