China plants green belt to stop deserts merging

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China has just kicked off an ambitious project to plant a green belt between the country's third and fourth largest deserts to stop them converging, said a forestry official in northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Thursday.

"It's the first time in China that a green belt is being planted between two deserts. The project is expected to take five years to plant a 202-km long and 5- to 15-km wide stripe of vegetation between Badain Jaran Desert and Tengger Desert," said Wang Xiaodong, a forestry official in Araxan League.

Workers are busy driving heavy machines to roll and level the sand dunes at the edge of the Badain Jaran Desert in preparation for planting.

Wang explained that they would use advanced techniques to consolidate the sand and pave it with clay before planting drought-resistant shrubs.

At 1,600 meters above sea level, Badain Jaran Desert is the world's highest. It is also the world's fourth largest.

Fifty years ago, a 400,000 hectare bush forest stood between the deserts. But since then the bush area has been reduced by half.

"The reduction of the natural barrier has allowed sand dunes from Badain Jaran Desert to edge southwards," Wang said, adding the project would also help replenish the bush forest to how it was half a century ago.

Human activity between the two deserts is partly to blame for the land's degradation, he said.

"There are 3,000 people living in the area. They have cut down many of the trees for burning or making way for pasture which has harmed the land," he said.

He said as part of the project, about 1,000 local residents would be relocated out of the area to enable the rehabilitation of the fragile ecology.

"An iron fence will be built once the green belt is planted to stop livestock from eating the shrubs," said Wang.

The afforestation project is funded by the central and regional governments. Total funding support for the project is expected to amount to 480 million yuan by 2015.

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