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City Takes Action Against Desertification
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A city that is home to the world-renowned Mogao Grottoes in northwest China's Gansu Province is taking steps to halt increasing desertification.

The local government in Dunhuang, a county-level city, has launched a range of water-saving measures to try to tackle the problem.

Wang Zhijun, director of Dunhuang Water Administration Bureau, said the use of underground water supplies was being strictly monitored.

He added: "Any officials who give permission for opening-up wasteland and digging wells to take underground water will be removed."

The city was also promoting high-tech water-saving technologies in agricultural production and increasing the prices of water for urban residents and industries.

New irrigation technologies have already been introduced to 1,333 hectares of farmland, and a further 17,707 hectares will soon follow suit, said Zhao Junhua, vice-mayor of the city.

"The water for agricultural irrigation will be monitored and people overusing water will be charged more for it," Wang said.

Earlier this year, six local water administrative officials were sacked because of their "dereliction in water administration and management," he added.

Dunhuang, located at the far western end of the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province, is an oasis surrounded by desert. The total area of Dunhuang is 31,200 square kilometers, but only 1,400 square kilometers have habitable living conditions, according to Yang Juncang, a senior engineer at Gansu Provincial Geology Environment Monitoring Institute.

With an annual average of 39.9 millimeters of rain and 2,486 millimeters of annual transpiration, Dunhuang is an extremely arid city. And water shortages are being made worse by increases in population and production, Yang added.

According to local official sources, the population of the city increased from 40,000 in 1950 to 188,000 in 2005, and the area of developed farmland rose from 8,933 hectares to 23,667 hectares over the same period. As a result, the annual water requirement increased from 219.2 million cubic meters to 318 million cubic meters for irrigation, and 259,000 cubic meters to 1.18 million cubic meters for household use.

As the city could not get enough water from its two resource rivers to meet rising demand, it had to take more water from underground sources.

It has led to the underground water level dropping more than 10 meters in the past 30 years, said Zhai Fulin, deputy secretary of the city's Chinese Communist Party committee.

A project, which was designed by experts locally and in Beijing in 2004, to send water from the nearby Ha'erteng River to Danghe River, one of Dunhuang's water resource rivers, should improve things.

It will provide 84 million-100 million cubic meters of water for the city, which will help fight against the desertification threat, said Yang.

The project is still waiting for approval from relevant authorities.

"It is far from enough to try to solve the water shortage problem only with efforts in the city itself Dunhuang is in urgent need to get water from other places," Yang said.

China Daily reported earlier this year how intensified desertification caused by water shortages in the area has also harmed the preservation of the Mogao Grottoes in recent years.

(China Daily May 18, 2006)

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