The vast dry lands of northwest China are increasingly being threatened by desertification as rivers dry up, scientists warned.
Zhou Xingjia, an expert on deserts and a researcher at the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the worsening desertification in the northwestern regions is presenting dire consequences in the area.
Zhou recently led a group of scientists on a research project on developing deserts in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. He said, "Since 1972, some 300 kilometers of the Tarim River's lower reaches have dried up and the entirety of the river valley could be hit by a fatal disaster in 30 to 50 years if the situation doesn't change," Zhou said.
The Tarim River is the life source both for millions of residents and an oasis in southern Xinjiang. Its dried-up parts have suffered alarming consequences.
"The river's dried-up areas have caused the Weilu-Taitma Reservoir at its lower reaches to dry up and the underground water levels along the river to greatly decrease," the desert expert said.
And large areas of vegetation along the dried-up parts of the river are dying which has caused increasingly severe desertification in the region. A large number of local farmers and herdsmen have been forced to leave their homelands, Zhou said.
"The Takla Makan Desert on the west bank of the river and the Kumtak Desert on the east bank are coming nearer and nearer, and showing a tendency to come together, which has enlarged the area of desertification," the expert said.
Zhou and his group found a similar situation has also taken place in Minqin County in Gansu, Xinjiang's eastern neighboring Province which has also suffered worsening desertification in recent years.
From the late 1990s, the Qingtu Lake in Minqin County has dried up caused by a decrease in the water coming from the Shiyang River and overuse of underground water sources. As a result, some 6,700 hectares of farmland have been transformed into desert annually in recent years in the county. It has become one of the major sources of sand storms in China, experts say
Improper uses of water resources have turned some 3,430 square kilometers of land into desert in the Takla Makan Desert region over the past 30 years.
Local governments have paid great attention to the serious situation and taken measures to recover water resources and vegetation in the Tarim region.
In 2000, a water-harnessing project started in the Tarim River Valley. From then on water was sent some four times to the river, covering an area of 28 square kilometers in the dried-up Weilu-Taitma Reservoir, according to Hua Guochen, a local water conservation official.
(China Daily September 6, 2004)