If the desertification of the Ruo'ergai Grassland continues unchecked, the area could become one of the highest deserts in the world in less than 20 years.
Ten thousand hectares of land in the grassland of Southwest China's Sichuan Province have become desert, with the desertification rate increasing by 11 per cent a year.
This environmental shift will trigger sandstorms on the Chengdu Plain, one of the country's major farming areas located 300 kilometres away. The Chengdu Plain is 500 metres above sea level, while the Ruo'ergai Grassland is 3,500 to 4,000 metres above sea level.
The alarming prediction was made in a recent desertification monitoring report.
Human activity is the main cause of desertification, according to an anonymous official from the Sichuan Provincial Department of Forestry.
Since the 1980s, herdsmen working in pastures have been raising an increasing number of livestock, eating away 37,000 hectares of grassland.
In 1958, Ruo'ergai County was home to 344,000 livestock, which had become 909,000 by 1998. The excessive number of animals is to blame for the widespread desertification, the official said.
Desertification has resulted in worsening soil erosion across the province.
A total of 200,000 square kilometer of land in Sichuan are prone to soil erosion, accounting for nearly 41 percent of the province's total area. Each year, more than 300 million tons of mud and sand end up in the Yangtze River because of this.
Worsening desertification has forced the provincial government to act. The authorities will step up efforts to protect forests and grasslands, the official said.
(China Daily November 4, 2005)