From a Desert to an Oa­sis

Ad­dress­ing the world­wide prob­lem of desert con­trol, peo­ple in Youyu County ig­nited a Chi­nese mir­a­cle with per­se­ver­ance and con­trib­uted Chi­nese wis­dom to the global fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

China Pictorial (English) - - CONTENTS - Text by Meng Qi

The Mu Us Desert cov­ers 42,200 square kilo­me­ters on the bor­der be­tween Shaanxi Province and In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­tonomous Re­gion. Once upon a time, it was a breath­tak­ing pas­ture with lush plants and beau­ti­ful scenery. Due to peren­nial un­sus­tain­able recla­ma­tion and war, the veg­e­ta­tion grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared and the area turned into a desert.

Since 1959, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has been vig­or­ously ad­vo­cat­ing wind­break con­struc­tion and desert trans­for­ma­tion. Through the unswerv­ing eco­log­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­forts of sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, pre­lim­i­nary suc­cess has been achieved. More than 6 mil­lion mu (400,000 hectares) of quick­sand in the Mu Us Desert fi­nally stopped ad­vanc­ing and turned green.

Once Bar­ren Land

Lo­cated on the edge of the Mu Us Desert, Youyu County was known as China’s “Desert City” 60 years ago. Si­t­u­ated less than 100 kilo­me­ters from the main wind gap of the Mu Us Desert, it was once a “sand sea.”

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial records of Youyu County, in 1949, there were only 8,000 mu (533 hectares) of resid­ual forests on the 3 mil­lion

mu (200,000 hectares) of land in the county. For­est cov­er­age rate was less than 0.3 per­cent, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion ra­tio was 76 per­cent, and soil ero­sion ra­tio was 73 per­cent.

This caused a pe­cu­liar phe­nom­e­non: Doors and gates of lo­cal res­i­dences were all in­war­dopen­ing. “Sand piled half a door high af­ter a wind­storm,” ex­plains Wang De­gong, for­mer chair­man of the county com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence (CPPCC), who is now in his 70s. “Doors sim­ply could not be opened out­ward. Peo­ple could only pull them from the in­side, let the sand flow into the house, and then clean it up.”

A bal­lad de­pict­ing the state of liv­ing in Youyu County still cir­cu­lates there. “Wind blows through­out the year,” it goes. “Dur­ing the day­time lamps are on; dur­ing the night, doors are bar­ri­caded by sand. Sand flies high when the wind blows; floods will come when it rains. Men are forced to leave their home­town to earn bread; women stay and live on wild veg­eta­bles.”

For­eign ex­perts sur­vey­ing the harsh en­vi­ron­ment of the county de­clared the area un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion and sug­gested that the en­tire pop­u­la­tion be re­lo­cated.

Mir­a­cle Through Per­se­ver­ance

That pro­posal was not adopted. Peo­ple in the county be­lieved that they could change the en­vi­ron­ment and vowed to “dress the sandy city in green.”

Since the 1950s, the prom­ise of “giv­ing green space to the desert”

in Youyu County has con­tin­ued to this day. Over more than 60 years, 20 suc­ces­sive Party sec­re­taries in the county have con­tin­ued to pur­sue “con­tri­bu­tion to the fi­nal suc­cess” and led the en­tire county in ef­forts against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. But since sand moves with the winds, it has not been easy to plant trees.

Now, peo­ple are see­ing a pe­cu­liar phe­nom­e­non in Youyu County: Taller tree species grow low, and their branches tightly wrap around the tree­tops like huge furled um­brel­las. How­ever, thanks to un­ex­pected help from this odd­ity, the county cre­ated an eco­log­i­cal mir­a­cle by build­ing a green city in the desert.

“In the first two years, the trees we planted were al­ways blown away by the wind,” re­calls Yang Xi, a vil­lager in his 80s. Af­ter con­tin­u­ous fail­ures, they grad­u­ally worked out plant­ing meth­ods which they call “boot wear­ing,” “cap wear­ing” and “belt ty­ing.”

“Boot wear­ing” is cre­at­ing shoring forests re­sem­bling wild goose wings to pre­vent dry sand from mov­ing. “Cap wear­ing” refers to mak­ing ditch nets on flow­ing sand dunes and strength­en­ing saplings

with ropes, to fix sand dunes. “Belt ty­ing” stands for build­ing mid-hill wind­break belts to re­duce wind force.

To avoid be­ing up­rooted by strong winds, all the trees in Youyu County are planted so deep that al­most all the tree trunks stay buried in the sand, ex­pos­ing only the canopy. This lim­its the growth of the trees, and the crowns are only one me­ter high above the ground. Due to winds blow­ing all year round, the branches grow up­ward, form­ing a strange scene. The trees are of­ten re­ferred to as “lit­tle old trees” be­cause they stop grow­ing so early.

Thanks to the wis­dom of the Youyu peo­ple and their tire­less ef­forts for more than 60 years, the for­est cov­er­age rate in the county has grown from less than 0.3 per­cent to 54 per­cent, 20 per­cent­age points higher than the na­tional av­er­age. The bar­ren land has been trans­formed into an oa­sis. Tree species have in­creased from less than 10 to more than 30 kinds. The num­ber of herbal species has reached 45, and more than 50 species of wildlife live there.

To­day, Youyu County fea­tures 1.5 mil­lion mu (100,000 hectares) of green area and an es­ti­mated 100 mil­lion trees. If the trees were lined up one by one at an in­ter­val of one me­ter, they would ex­tend for 100,000 kilo­me­ters, 2.5 times around the equa­tor.

A mi­cro­cli­mate has formed due to the good ecol­ogy brought about by the veg­e­ta­tion. The av­er­age wind speed has de­creased by 29.2 per­cent; its av­er­age an­nual rain­fall is 30-40 mil­lime­ters higher than the sur­round­ing area. Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics of the past five years, the an­nual av­er­age tem­per­a­ture of the county has risen from 3.6 de­grees Cel­sius in the mid-20th cen­tury to 5.2 de­grees Cel­sius at present, and the frost-free pe­riod has in­creased from less than 100 days to 123 days. Chi­nese An­swers to Desert Con­trol

In 1977, the Ac­tion Plan to Com­bat De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion was for­mu­lated at a United Na­tions con­fer­ence on de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion was put onto the in­ter­na­tional agenda as a global eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue. In 1992, at a United Na­tions con­fer­ence on en­vi­ron­ment and devel­op­ment, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion con­trol was in­cluded in Agenda 21. In 1994, the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion to Com­bat De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion (UNCCD) was passed in France. In Oc­to­ber of that year, China ac­ceded to the con­ven­tion.

With a recorded his­tory of 5,000 years and a pop­u­la­tion equal to one fifth of the world’s to­tal, China is among the most se­verely af­fected by de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and wa­ter scarcity.

Ac­cord­ing to the Global Desert Out­look pub­lished by the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme, the is­sue of de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion is wors­en­ing. More than 40 per­cent of the earth’s land is dry land, and one third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives in arid ar­eas. De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion has be­come a global en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial prob­lem that can­not be ig­nored.

Ad­dress­ing the world­wide prob­lem of desert con­trol, peo­ple in Youyu County ig­nited a Chi­nese mir­a­cle with per­se­ver­ance and con­trib­uted Chi­nese wis­dom to the global fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the UNCCD once com­mented: China de­serves world trib­ute for its prac­tice in con­trol­ling the Mu Us Desert.

Now, lush woods grow in Youyu, and it is hard to imag­ine that the county was once a des­o­late desert.

The au­di­ence watches the 2017 Yu­long In­ter­na­tional Horse Rac­ing event at Yu­long Horse Park of Youyu County. Xin­hua

Birds pass through Hua­machi wet­land in the Haba Lake Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. Si­t­u­ated at the edge of the Mu Us Desert, the re­serve has grad­u­ally re­stored its ecol­ogy af­ter years of man­age­ment since it was founded in 2006. Xin­hua

The Cang­tou River Eco­log­i­cal Cor­ri­dor in Youyu County is cov­ered with lush veg­e­ta­tion. To­day, the county fea­tures 1.5 mil­lion mu (100,000 hectares) of green area. by Zhan Yan/xin­hua

Dat­ing back to the 1960s and 1970s, Youyu County na­tives planted trees on bar­ren moun­tains. Xin­hua

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