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Deserts shrinks, erosion risk lingers
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China's desertification acreage had shrunk by 37,900 square kilometers from 2000 to 2004, said a senior official with the State Forestry Administration (SFA) on Thursday.

Farmers plant grass to stabilise sand dunes at the edge of the Mu Us Desert in Lingwu, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region October 19, 2007.

Zhu Lieke, deputy director of the SFA, said about 20 percent of desertification areas in the country had so far been improved, an increase of 20 percentage points.

China had a desertification acreage of 2.6 million square kilometers with 400 million people affected, said Liu Tuo, head of the desertification prevention and treatment department under the SFA.

The SFA's deputy director also said nearly 320,000 square kilometers of land were exposed to high risks of erosion.

He said the government had made great efforts to convert the deserts into forestry and pasture and fund other projects to restore healthy forest ecosystems.

In the latest effort, the country said it would invest 1.567 billion yuan (US$214.7 million) over the next decade to protect and improve the ecological environment of the valley of Qinghai Lake, the country's biggest inland saltwater lake.

The 10-year project aimed to help conserve wetlands, restore grassland, control rats and pests, prevent land desertification, plant trees, resettle residents, offer safe drinking water to rural people, renovate riverways, and others, said a government spokesman.

Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu on Tuesday called on countries to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to faithfully fulfil their pledges to continue their fight against desertification.

The Convention went into force in 1996. China signed it in October 1994 and ratified it in February 1997.

The country's deserts are shrinking by 7,585 sq km annually due to the efforts of local governments and people, compared with an annual expansion of 10,400 sq km at the end of the last century, according to official statistics.

(Xinhua News Agency January 25, 2008)

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