China says its slowing rate of desertification

Mon May 29, 2006

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, with desert covering one third of its landmass,
is slowing the rate at which desertification is eating up arable and other
land but the problem remains serious, a government official said on Monday.
At the end of the last century, areas affected by desertification in China
were expanding at an annual rate of 10,400 square km (4,015 sq mile), said
Zhu Lieke, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration.

This had now slowed to about 3,000 square km a year, he told a news

"China's anti-desertification work has made major progress," Zhu said. "It
has effectively improved agricultural production conditions ... and made a
major contribution to the sustainable development of the economy and

"Although the work had had certain success, the desertification situation is
still very serious," he added.

More than half a million sq km of land could yet be improved to turn back
the deserts, and in some areas the sand was advancing at a fast rate, Zhu

"Disadvantageous climatic reasons, especially the influence of drought on
speeding up desertification, cannot be underestimated," he said.

"Over-planting, over-grazing and over-use of water are also issues yet to be
totally resolved."

China -- home to part of the Gobi desert -- has embarked upon a massive
tree-planting scheme to hold back the deserts, as well as banning the
grazing of domestic animals on fragile soil and trying to improve

Last month, officials said that China would never completely tame the
sandstorms that plague the country every spring due to the sheer size of its
sandy regions.

But they did promise China would step up efforts to control the
problem, adding they were confident the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing
would not be affected.

Desertification of the country's west and Mongolian steppes has made spring
sandstorms worse in recent years, reaching as far away as South Korea and
Japan and turning rain and snow yellow.

A persistent drought in northern parts of China has only added to the
problem, sucking moisture from the soil and making it more easily picked up
by the wind, officials have said.

China's State Council, or cabinet, said in February that by 2010 the country
would establish "clear improvements" in key areas, and by 2020 half of the
country's desertified land that can be repaired would have been.

A U.N. study issued last year warned that a deteriorating environment,
including encroaching deserts, could drive about 50 million Chinese from
their homes by 2010.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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