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Wednesday, September 26, 2001, updated at 08:38(GMT+8)

China Uses Foreign Money in Desert Control

China is pinning high hopes on the use of foreign funds to drive back the advancing deserts in the thirsty northwest.

So far, the strategy has been successful in Ningxia, where a project is underway to curb invasion of the Mu Us Desert into the plain in the Yellow River valley.

The 796 million yen in free aid given by the Japanese government for the work is believed to be the highest sum given to China from a foreign country for environmental protection.

Under the project, farmers will be given subsidies to plant more trees to block the deserts.

Yang Jinyong, a farmer from Shangbaqing village of Taole County, owns a 0.2-hectare nursery. He has spent 3,000 yuan (about US$362 on the nursery which was nearly all of his savings.

Next spring, after planting saplings at the desert's edge, Yang will be reimbursed by the project authority.

In Inner Mongolia, a Sino-German project is also underway to curb the desertification the Horqin grassland. Over 40,000 hectares of land are expected to be planted with trees over the next five years.

Experts are optimistic that the use of foreign funds and enhanced international co-operation will greatly advance China's desert control cause.

China is home to some of the worst desertification in the world. The country has 2.62 million square kilometers of desertified land, and the figure rises by 2,000 square kilometers a year.

Desertification is threatening 400 million Chinese, or one- third of the population. Direct economic losses from desertification exceed 8.4 billion yuan every year.

In north and northwest China, the Mu Us and Tengger deserts are pouring nearly 100 million tons of soil into the Yellow River annually.

Experts from Japan said deteriorating environment on the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River is not only causing dwindling water and increased risks of flooding at the lower reach, but also more frequent and severe sandstorms.

In recent years, the impact of sandstorms that originated in northwest China has been felt over a wider area. Sandstorms have not only invaded southern China; the fine dust has drifted to Japan and other neighboring countries.

China has scored remarkable achievements in desertification control. More than 160,000 square kilometers of sand hills have been changed into farms and forests. The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has become the first Chinese region to stop the expansion of desertification. In some areas, deserts have been on the retreat.

The country has spent tens of billions of yuan on desert control, and while the launch of its "west region development" strategy is sure to bring more funds, money is still a major problem.

Qu Geping, China's legislator on environmental protection, said in March that China's area of desertified land has hit 1.68 million square kilometers, and that about 500,000 square kilometers of the deserts could be transformed at the current technical conditions.

"The handling of the desert land will require at least several hundreds of billions of yuan. How to raise the money will be the key issue here," Qu said.

He noted that relying on government funds and donations by enterprises will not be enough, and that more international co- operation should be sought.

China's first law on desert control, also the first of its kind in the world, passed by the country's legislative body recently, says clearly that "the government will support international co- operation in the prevention and control of desertification."

Many of China's western regions have put desert control at the top of their agenda for attracting new business.

Yin Yuewen, deputy director of the Ningxia forestation projects co-ordination office, said the Japanese aid project will benefit 1. 12 million hectares of land and 400,000 people.

Foreign businesses in China are also in action. Unilever has pledged 35 million yuan (US$4.21 million) for forestation efforts in Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Qinghai, Sichuan and other western regions in the next five years.

Qu Geping, also founder of the China Foundation for Environmental Protection, called on more foreign governments, businesses and individuals to give support to China's desertification efforts.

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China is pinning high hopes on the use of foreign funds to drive back the advancing deserts in the thirsty northwest.

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