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Saving Dry Lands Improves Life for Millions

China launched a long-term project on Friday to reinvigorate degraded dry land in six drought-prone areas in its impoverished western region with the help of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The six targeted areas -- Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions -- have a population of 117 million. Twenty million people or 17 per cent of the total are poor with incomes below US$1 a day due to their parched land.

The project to improve the land is the first of its kind under the administration of ADB and is partly funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

As the first step in a US$1.5 billion 10-year program, officials will deal with the degraded land by strengthening institutions, government agencies and developing a participatory, scientific and comprehensive approach to the ecosystem.

The partnership was designed with ADB assistance and was approved by the GEF council in 2002.

GEF plans to provide about US$150 million in grant assistance for the effort.

ADB is providing technical assistance grants of US$1 million to complement the program, strengthen interagency co-ordination, monitor and evaluate the overall program, while a total of package of about US$6.3 million will come from the Chinese Government.

The partnership will enhance institutional capacity, improve the quality of the policy and regulatory environment, planning mechanisms, project design capacity, and monitoring and evaluation skills in the six worst affected areas.

Land degradation, a problem resulting from many sectors, including the over use of arable land, forest lands and grass lands, is an issue that requires close co-operation by agencies.

China's western region, comprising a dozen provinces and autonomous regions, supports a population of more than 285 million -- including many of the poorest and most vulnerable people -- and is very ethnically diverse.

China faces the world's most serious land degradation, with more than 40 per cent of its land increasingly affected by wind erosion, salinization, and desertification, ADB's experts say.

Human activities are accelerating the problem, which has profound social and economic consequences, including lower household incomes and increased poverty in many rural communities, higher unemployment and migration rates, they added.

Land degradation is also threatening biodiversity in a region rich in endemic species and is a major source of dust storms affecting North and Northwest China.

More than 1.74 million square kilometres of China's land is decertified, or about 18 per cent of the total territory, said Zhu Lieke, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA).

"The project will help the government to combat land degradation, reduce consequent poverty, and conserve biodiversity," M. E. Tusneem, director general of ADB's east and central Asian department, said.

Tusneem hopes the project "will provide the 'software' for the eventual success of the overall partnership."

He is confident the project can "ensure the investments planned under the partnership to have the maximum impact on the poor rural communities and diverse ethnic minority groups facing the worst land degradation."

(China Daily July 17, 2004)

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