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China gripped by 'big dry'

A dust storm blows over Japan and both Koreas from China last April
A dust storm blows over Japan and both Koreas from China last April  

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China's desert has grown so much that it now makes up almost 30 percent of the country's land mass.

A new State Forestry Administration survey shows that 2.7 million square kilometers of land was desert by the end of 1999, the state-run China Daily reported on Tuesday.

This was a rise of 52,000 square kilometers of desert from the first desertification survey in 1994.

Northern and western parts of China were the most vulnerable, including the autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang, and the northern provinces of Hebei and Shanxi. Asia
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While global warming may have played some part in the rise, the survey showed that people were responsible for turning 18.2 percent, or 1.74 million square kilometers, of China into desert.

"Most dry lands in China have been degraded by over-cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices, as well as abnormal weather changes such as persistent droughts," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the survey as saying.

Another 17,000 square kilometers of reclaimed land had also turned to desert, the report said.

Dirt storm

The impact of land turning into desert is not restricted to China's borders alone.

Last year, a sprawling Asian dirt storm blew across the Pacific and sprinkled millions of tons of the Gobi and Takla Makan deserts as far east as Florida, making one of the largest North American dust clouds ever recorded.

Such episodes have comparatively little effect on air quality in the United States. But the periodic plumes cause major headaches in cities hundreds of kilometers downwind like Beijing, blotting out the sun, slowing traffic and closing airports.

The eastward winds have long spurred protests from residents of Korea and Japan, who have faced similar, if milder, dust epidemics from China.

The three nations have organized a committee to find a strategy to combat the dust, according to the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental advocacy group.


Adding to China's woes is a vast water shortage.

The country's official news agency says that more than 110 Chinese cities are suffering from a severe water shortage due to a lack of resources, water pollution and a deterioration of the environment.

Industrialization has dried up rivers, wells, and springs, affecting the supply of clean drinking water and the irrigation of farmlands. It is estimated that around 700 million people out of China's 1.2 billion, drink contaminated water.

Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, in a speech on China's five-year economic plan last year, said the water shortage could have "serious implications" in the country's economic and social development.

While Xinhua reported that some cities in Northern China are rationing their water supply, low water levels are also leading to electricity shortages in Hubei and Hunan provinces.

Citing sources at a working conference on water resources, the Xinhua report said that China was due to issue a new law on urban water conservancy in the first half of 2002.

Such a law would stress environmental protection and the organization of water resources, Xinhua reported.


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