Turning deserts into op­por­tu­ni­ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

Kubuqi and Sai­hanba in North China are widely seen as suc­cess­ful ex­am­ples of the coun­try’s fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. Both places were cov­ered by forests and grass­lands un­til about 400 years ago when the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) opened them for lum­ber. Fol­low­ing decades of de­for­esta­tion, graz­ing for­est fires, the two places turned into deserts to­ward the end of the Qing Dy­nasty.

How­ever, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion has been con­trolled by more than one-third in the 180,000-squarek­ilo­me­ter Kubuqi Desert, the sev­enth-largest in China, and the 750-sq-km Sai­hanba Desert thanks to the anti-de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion cam­paign launched in the 1960s. In fact, the two places are now na­tional parks.

Some com­mon fac­tors have played im­por­tant roles in help­ing fight de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in Kubuqi and Sai­hanba. Anti-de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion projects the world over take na­ture’s laws into con­sid­er­a­tion, for which mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ex­per­tise and mod­ern tech­nolo­gies are needed. And by involving botanists, ar­borists, ge­ol­o­gists, en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neers, and hy­drol­o­gists in the two projects, the au­thor­i­ties have en­sured their suc­cess.

Im­por­tant de­ci­sions such as what trees and shrubs to plant, so as to make max­i­mum use of the lim­ited wa­ter re­source are made af­ter seek­ing the opin­ions of the ex­perts and in con­sul­ta­tion with the lo­cal peo­ple.

China has learned some lessons in its fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. For in­stance, af­ter plant­ing saplings and shrubs that ab­sorbed the un­der­ground wa­ter in arid ar­eas and then died a few years later for the lack of enough wa­ter, the au­thor­i­ties re­al­ized not all trees and shrubs can help fight de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The au­thor­i­ties pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the Kubuqi and Sai­hanba na­tional for­est parks be­cause they are the sources of sand­storms af­flict­ing North China, in­clud­ing Bei­jing. If the green­ery in the two places is not main­tained, the sand­storms can get worse and ex­tract huge eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal costs.

To ef­fec­tively fight de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, how­ever, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of en­ter­prises and lo­cal res­i­dents is also nec­es­sary, be­cause such en­vi­ron­men­tal projects re­quire huge amounts of energy and cap­i­tal.

While work­ing on a re­port on the de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion-con­trol sta­tion in Hexi Cor­ri­dor in North­west China’s Gansu prov­ince a cou­ple of years ago, I in­ter­viewed a farmer in his late 70s, who told me that dozens of vil­lagers have spent their en­tire life in pre­vent­ing the nearby desert from en­gulf­ing the vil­lage. But de­spite their best ef­forts, af­ter the el­derly farm­ers die the vil­lage will turn into desert as the young peo­ple of the vil­lage have mi­grated to cities to earn a bet­ter liv­ing.

The Elion Group, a green tech­nol­ogy and fi­nance com­pany, has been part of the Kubuqi de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion-con­trol project since 1988, and played a cru­cial role in in­tro­duc­ing cap­i­tal and tech­nolo­gies, and em­ploy­ing lo­cal res­i­dents. Ad­vanced agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies used in anti-de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion projects can help cre­ate busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in the long run, by, for ex­am­ple, plant­ing herbs that can be used in medicines. In fact, such herbs have been planted un­der the so­lar power pan­els in Kubuqi, gen­er­at­ing rev­enues for lo­cal in­hab­i­tants.

Such en­deav­ors can also help change peo­ple’s con­cept about en­vi­ron­men­tal projects and prompt them to take ad­van­tage of the “desert econ­omy”. In Sai­hanba, for in­stance, many of those born af­ter the anti-de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion project was im­ple­mented share a com­mon first name — lin (mean­ing for­est) — re­flect­ing lo­cal res­i­dents’ re­spect for the veg­e­ta­tion that pro­tects their homes.

Be­sides, the gov­ern­ment should also take mea­sures to pro­vide bet­ter pub­lic ser­vices for lo­cal res­i­dents and raise their en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness. Since de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion-con­trol projects yield re­sults only in the long term, they should be continued once started.

China has about 2.6 mil­lion sq km of deserts, and an­other 1.7 mil­lion sq km of de­ser­ti­fied land, which to­gether is about one­tenth of the world to­tal. Thanks to the au­thor­i­ties’ de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion-con­trol ef­forts, desert and de­ser­ti­fied ar­eas in China have on av­er­age re­duced by about 4,000 sq km a year in re­cent years. China’s suc­cess in the fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, as such, is a con­tri­bu­tion to global ef­forts to con­trol the spread of deserts.

Such en­deav­ors can also help change peo­ple’s con­cept about en­vi­ron­men­tal projects and prompt them to take ad­van­tage of the “desert econ­omy ”.

The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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