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Sandstorms Swept Away
Beijing is likely to escape its usual sandstorms this year because of rainfall and re-afforestation in the areas north of the capital.

The capital, normally blanketed by sandstorms for five to eight days a year, can now breathe easier, according to experts from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau.

They said forecasts of more rain in North China for May, after falls last winter and this spring, will help suppress the formation of sandstorms.

Wang Yongguang, a senior engineer with the National Climate Center of CMA, said the increasing precipitation had effectively neutralized the droughts that had plagued the country's northern regions for many years.

"The rise in the moisture content of local soils will curb the formation of sandstorms," Wang said.

According to sources from the Central Meteorological Station, rainy or snowy weather has swept across most areas of China since the beginning of this spring. Beijing alone had up to 10 rain periods in March and April, with a record 31 millimeters falling during one rains.

Only northwest China's Gansu Province and north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have so far experienced dust clouds - about four or five this year - which are much weaker than sandstorms.

Wang Yongguang predicted warmer weather than in previous years, indicating a decline in cold airflows and strong winds. This will also help prevent sandstorms forming.

An official in charge of desertification control with the State Forestry Administration (SFA), said that re-afforestation would also help lessen the impact of sandstorms.

According to SFA monitoring, in China's northern areas where conservation projects have been launched, the vegetation cover has increased by 5 to 15 percent over previous years, reducing the chance of sandstorms.

Since afforestation is by far the most effective means of reducing the number of sandstorms, China plans to push back the desert over 10 years by planting trees and preserving pastures in its northern regions.

Beijing also expects to add an area of 412 square kilometers to its green belt by 2008, covering the city with trees, lawns and gardens.

Beijing built its first green belt, covering an area of 102.3 square kilometers, around its downtown neighborhoods over the past three years in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The second loop will include the remainder of the city and its suburbs which now have a total green area of 400 square kilometers, with a quarter covered in forest.

This year, 2,000 hectares will be added to the green belt.

On average, each Beijing resident enjoys 42 square meters of parkland at present. Vegetated areas covers 45.5 percent of the municipality and the percentage in Beijing's urban areas is 39 percent.

(China Daily May 7, 2003)

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