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China’s tenacious fight against desertification

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2017-10-09
Email of the writer: jw368@163.com

In comparison with most other vast countries, China seems to possess the least favorable territory in terms of natural resources and geographical conditions.

What struck me most during my trips to the U.S., Russia and European countries in the recent years were their superior natural conditions and ecological environment. I was impressed by Russia’s immense forests stretching to the horizon and America’s and Australia’s endless lush pastures with herds of cattle grazing on them.

When our tour guide told us that Russia enjoyed such abundant forest resources that if all the trees were cut down and sold for money, the proceeds would be sufficient to feed the nation’s entire population for over 200 years, every tour member responded with “Wow.”

Despite its vast surface area (9.6 million square km) and geographical diversity, China has unfavorable geographical conditions with mountains (33 percent), plateaus (26 percent) and hills (10 percent) accounting for nearly 70 percent of the country’s land.

China’s rugged terrain presents problems for the construction of overland transportation infrastructure and the development of agriculture. But it won’t daunt Chinese planners, engineers and workers. By their ingenuity and hard work, networks of high-speed railways and expressways have been built through high mountains and over deep valleys to link the remote underdeveloped areas to the centers of the nation.

Despite lacking Nature’s favor, Chinese have learned to adapt to the harsh conditions and transform them for a better life.

Yet, due to natural changes and manmade mistakes such as excessive and unscientific development, China’s overall ecological environment is still under great pressure of deterioration. Desertification is one of the main threats.

The latest data show that desertified land accounts for 27.2 percent of China’s total land surface and 18 provinces are faced with the threats of desertification.

Deserts’ expansion or retreat has great impact on human welfare, and Chinese efforts against rampant desertification have resulted in great achievements.

China’s Kubuqi model presents the world with valuable experiences in desertification control and transformation.

Located south of the famous Gobi Desert in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, Kubuqi is China’s seventh-largest desert covering an area of 18,600 square kilometers. It was once the origin of frequent sandstorms that affected Beijing.

The formation of the vast desert was a tragic lesson borne by human mistakes. It used to be a place of fertile grasslands and abundant water, but centuries of herding turned it into a barren land as animals grazed away all the vegetation.

It was time to mend the fence before it was too late. Over the past three decades, Chinese firm Elion Resource has worked with government and local farmers and herdsmen to “green” the desert. They planted Chinese medicinal herbs such as liquorice to improve soil, built photovoltaic power stations for electricity and fostered tourism.

Drought-proof plants were introduced to control sand flow and incentives were given to tree growers to grow herbs which could be sold for cash, thus creating a virtuous cycle.

By now, one-third of the area (6,000 square kilometers) has been planted and 102,000 people have shaken off poverty. More ambitious plans will be carried out by Kubuqi people to reforest more desertified land with trees and lift more people out of poverty.

Kubuqi is the epitome of China’s efforts to fight against desertification in the past few years, which has resulted in the shrinking of degraded land and the reducing of poverty in desertified areas.

The area of desertified land in the country shrank by an annual average of 1,980 square km in 2010-2014, a sharper decline than the 1,717 square km for 2005-2009, and 1,283 square km for 2000-2004.

Kubuqi’s success has won international recognition. The greening project in Kubuqi has offered a model for the world to tackle desertification, said representatives of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Desert control is a global concern, and as the world’s first desert to achieve large-scale control, the success of Kubuqi brings hope to countries faced with the task of curbing desertification.

On Sept. 8, China hosted a United Nations meeting on fighting desertification in Inner Mongolia, on which a roadmap was planned to end desert expansion in China by 2030.

(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)