China's desertification reversed through constant efforts

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After prolonged efforts, desertification in China has been initially reversed, with trees and grass springing up where deserts used to be.

"In the 1990s, the desertification area would increase nearly 3,500 square km every year. But after ten years of work, the situation has been overturned. About 1,500 square km of desert can be turned into greenery every year," said Luo Bin, deputy director of the National Bureau to Combat Desertification under the State Forestry Administration, at the Kubuqi International Desert Forum, which is being held in the city of Ordos in north China's Inner Monoglia Autonomous Region.

According to statistics released by the State Forestry Administration, China has 2.6 million square km of desert, accounting for 27 percent of the country's total land area. The desert areas are scattered among 12 provincial-level regions in north China.


In recent years, the central government has spent vast amounts of money to prevent desertification. In some areas, vegetation coverage has expanded by 20 percent over the last decade, said Zhao Shucong, director of the State Forestry Administration.

In 2002, the government promulgated the world's first law concerning desertification prevention and control. But desertification efforts have been ongoing since the 1950s, including one program in which trees were planted in 13 provincial-level regions in north China to prevent desertification.

Such projects have played an important role in improving the environment and eliminating poverty.

"In its next step, China plans to have about 200,000 square km of desertified land, or half of the country's desert area that can be reversed, harnessed by 2020 and improve living standards for people living in the desert," Luo added.

However, the biggest challenge will be to prevent sandstorms from hitting the cities of Beijing and Tianjin, Luo said, adding that 56 billion yuan (9.1 billion U.S. dollars) has already been spent on this endeavor in the past ten years and 84.4 billion yuan more will be spent in coming ten years.


Situated in the southwestern part of Inner Monoglia, the Kubuqi Desert is the seventh largest desert in China. With a total area of 18,600 square km, it is one of the main sources of sandstorms that regularly hit Beijing, Tianjin and north China's Hebei Province.

Twenty-five years ago, there were no roads or other basic infrastructure in the desert. Over 100,000 of its residents have suffered from sandstorms and poverty for decades.

However, the situation has changed since the Elion Resource Group moved into the desert.

With the support of the local government and participation by local residents, a "marketization, industrialization and public welfare-based" strategy for desert control was introduced by the enterprise."

After 25 years, more than 1,000 square km of trees have been planted in the desert with the company's help. Elion has also launched large-scale ecological restoration projects. More than 500 km of roads have also been built in the desert.

The company employs about 5,000 planters each year and has provided more than 100,000 jobs in the area over the last 25 years. The company plans to expand the desert's green area from the current 5,000 square km to 15,000 square km by 2020.

On the basis of the present 5,000 square kilometers of greening area, Elion plans to add 10,000 square kilometers of desert oasis, so that the area of desert ecological development and rehabilitation projects will reach 15,000 square kilometers, equal to one-thirteenth of the total desert regulation planning area of China in 2020.

"Elion will spare no efforts to reach the goal of zero growth in desertified land globally," said Wang Wenbiao, chairman of Elion, which was given an award by the UN in 2012 for its contributions in desertification control.

Bao Yongxin, a 47-year-old resident of the city of Chifeng in Inner Mongolia, has benefited greatly from desertification control efforts.

Bao used to live with his wife in a temporary shed built in the desert. Although their home was often deluged by sandstorms, he and his wife worked for years to plant grass and fight off the encroaching desert.

After more than 20 years, they had managed to plant 17 square km of grass, enough for him to cultivate the grass seed that he now sells. Between his seed sales and money derived from the livestock he has been able to raise on the land, Bao makes about 500,000 yuan annually.

Many local residents have followed in his footsteps.

"It has been proven that the desert can not only be greened, but also used to make money," Bao said.


Deserts cover nearly 40 million square km globally, accounting for a quarter of the world's total land area. More than 110 countries and about 1 billion people around the world have been affected by desertification.

With global development and population growth, issues of land deterioration and desertification will worsen in the future, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, at the forum.

China has attached great importance to the issue and has lots of experience in desert control and ecological development, as shown in its handling of the Kubuqi Desert, he said.

Steiner said the UN is interested in the ecological concepts adopted by China and believes they can both help shape a sustainable environment for the nation and provide significant inspiration for other countries.

"International cooperation needs capital and technology," said Su Ming, deputy director-general of the department of international cooperation under the State Forestry Administration.

China will strengthen cooperation with the world through bilateral and multilateral cooperation to fight oglobal desertification, said Wan Gang, minister of science and technology.

It is necessary to learn from and introduce advanced technology and experience from the world while also maintaining communication and exchanging views with other countries, he added.

The Kubuqi International Desert Forum is the only international forum dedicated to the development of the world's deserts and the first international desert forum held in China.




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