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Think Small to Save Forests

Huge undertakings like the Three Gorges Dam naturally get plenty of publicity, but China's water facility engineers are also proud of their pint-sized projects.

A number of small and eco-friendly hydropower stations have sprung up over the past decade, supplying power to more than 300 million people, nearly one-fourth of the country's population.

To remote farmers who previously knew little about harnessing and utilizing electricity, the small power stations have been a revelation as well as a blessing, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Visitors to the home of a middle-aged Tibetan man identified only as Namka watched him light his cigarette with a two-kilowatt electric stove rather than the usual lighter or matches.

"Each kilowatt-hour of electricity costs only 20 fen (2.5 US cents)," Namka said with a smile. "It produces no smoke, and is very convenient."

The Tibetan Autonomous Township of Qiaoqi, where Namka lives in southwest China's Sichuan Province, encouraged citizens to stop using firewood several years ago in favor of hydropower.

Over the past decade, the central government has strongly advocated the establishment of small-scale hydropower stations in rural areas, taking into account both economic development and environmental protection.

In 1987, the country spent 200,000 yuan (US$24,100) to build a small hydropower station with a generating capacity of 640 kilowatts in Qiaoqi Township.

The local government also gave villagers electric cooking appliances. Currently, 90 percent of the Qiaoqi's residents use electricity to prepare meals.

Namka has a family of four and they use electricity for both cooking and heating, which costs them about 100 yuan per month.

Living at the foot of 1,900-meter Jiajin Mountain, Namka as well as many other local families used to rely solely on firewood for warmth six months of the year.

Experts estimate that a family like his would burn at least 20 kg of dry wood daily. Their annual consumption would thus top 7,300 kilograms, or nine to 14 cubic meters of timber.

"The environmental damage was serious. One household can save about 0.3 hectares of wild forest a year by using electric power," said Dong Wei, deputy head of Baoxing County in Sichuan.

Ten years ago, the small county on the Yangtze River built a little hydropower station, which has benefited local people and preserved at least part of the forest.

In 1999, China declared logging illegal along the upper reaches of Yangtze, a move that affected many nearby counties, whose fiscal revenues mainly relied on logging.

Baoxing soon began using hydropower to develop stone mining and to process agricultural products, completely shaking off its dependence on forests.

About 40 percent of Baoxing people now use electricity instead of firewood, while the forest region has been set up as a nature reserve for giant pandas.

Paoma Mountain, a resort whose scenic beauty is referred to in a famous Chinese folksong, has lost large areas of forest in recent years.

After the switch from firewood to electricity several years ago, forest destruction in Paoma was controlled and the resort has again become a beautiful tourist destination.

(eastday.com February 4, 2002)

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