While China's central areas have suffered from heavy rains over the past week, the nation's western regions are still threatened by desertification and soil erosion.
Shouqu Wetland, known as the natural cistern of the Yellow River - China's second longest river - has witnessed more than 200,000 hectares of land having become desert, according to local officials.
The wetland is located in Maqu Couery, Gansu Province in northwest China, with an area of some 1,000 square kilometers, and provides about 45 per cent of water for the upper reaches of the Yellow River, said Cai Zhi, a top county official.
Years of desertification and dry weather have made the underground water level decrease and thousands of springs in Maqu County dry up. Among 27 tributaries which empty into the Yellow River, 11 are now completely parched and others only have water during the rainy season, Cai said.
The wetland should play a great role in containing water, conserving water resources and protecting the Yellow River area from soil erosion. It has great importance for the environment in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, said Hua Erbao, deputy director of the county's Animal Husbandry Bureau.
He said the major cause of the desertification is the pressure of animal husbandry production and the warmer weather in recent years.
The deputy director said local governments are taking measures to lead local herdsmen to use the grasslands more properly, decrease the number of livestock grazing there and to rear livestock in pens.
On the other hand, Hong Yashan Reservoir, the largest desert reservoir in Asia, which is also located in Gansu Province, is almost dry, and has left local people, livestock and farm land craving for water, according to local officials.
Constructed in 1958, Hong Yashan Reservoir has a water capacity of 98 million cubic meters and provides water for some 60,000 hectares of farm land and is considered a vital project for local people, said Li Juwen, an official with the reservoir administrative office.
"Between June 8 and 23, we sent 14 million cubic meters of water to irrigate the lower reaches and on June 28, the reservoir completely dried up. It was the first time the reservoir has gone dry in a long time," Li said.
Megre rainfall was the major cause for the reservoir's dry-up. From January 1 to July 15, the rainfall on the upper reaches of the reservoir was only 20.4 millimeters, while water had to be sent to the lower reaches of the river for irrigation purposes, Li said.
(China Daily July 20, 2004)