Sunday, November 12, 2006

So much sand so close to home.

Via Erik Loomis, the Asia Times writes about China's problem with desertification:
An ever rising tide of sand is threatening to accelerate the spread of barren wasteland to the heart of China. Some 3,900 square kilometers of land turns to sand each year. Nearly all of northern China, including the capital Beijing, is at risk.

Local government leaders blame the harvesting of desert plants as the main reason for the unstoppable march of the sands.

"In the past, peasants used to uproot the desert vegetation and burn it as firewood during the winter months," said Zhang Tao, deputy director of the Afforestation Department of Bazhou prefecture, through which the desert highway passes.

Such plants as rose willow that can resist the drought and contain the march of the shifting sands were all harvested. Another anti-desertification vegetation, Populus euphratica (Indian poplar), which grew in thick clusters along the Tarim River, was also cut down by farmers and burned for heating and cooking.

The cutting and harvesting have been particularly severe in southwestern areas such as Hotan and Kashgar, where there is no coal. China relies on coal for more than 70% of its energy needs.

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