China’s efforts to curtail desertification are paying off thanks to a series of long-term policies and measures implemented by governments at all levels, with data revealing that desertified and sandified areas in the country are shrinking.
Results of the latest National Monitoring of Desertification and Sandification, which were issued at the end of 2015, showed that areas of both desertified and sandified land were annually reduced between 2010 and 2014, at a yearly average of 2,424 square kilometers and 1,980 sq km respectively.
This was the third consecutive monitoring period during which there was a reduction on both counts.
China has been monitoring desertification and sandification every five years since the 1990s, to provide scientific information for policy makers to help combat land desertification.
Each monitoring lasts about one year and a half, during which data was collected on the status and dynamics of land.
“Land desertification poses the most serious threat to ecological development in China,” said Zhang Yongli, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration.
According to Zhang, China now has 2.61 million sq km of soil that is classified as undergoing desertification, spreading across 528 counties in 18 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, as well as about 1.72 million sq km of land that has been lost to sandification, accounting for 18 percent of the country’s total land area and directly affecting some 400 million people.
The State Council set up a land restoration group in the early 1950s and since then has organized several national working conferences and projects, including afforestation and the construction of shelterbelts, which are barriers of trees and shrubs planted to protect crops and soil, in attempts to halt expanding land desertification.
It also introduced related laws and regulations to promote and support those efforts.
After Xi Jinping became president in 2013, China made “ecological civilization” one of its leading principles for reaching the goal of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. It implemented a new round of restoring grain plots to forestry and grass, and delimited ecological red lines for forests, grasslands and wetlands.
Restoration projects have promoted the restructuring of rural industries and benefited the lives of people in such regions as Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Liaoning.
“China’s efforts to combat land desertification have gained wide international acclaim,” Zhang said.
The country has committed itself to the principles defined in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and also works to promote international communication and cooperation in the sector.
The UNCCD’s secretariat has singled out China as a role model for treating and preventing land desertification and has twice recognized the SFA for its “outstanding contributions”.
Despite the outstanding improvements, the monitoring results also show that both desertification and sandification are still a serious issue, said Zhang.
China has vowed to improve conditions on more than 50 percent of treatable desertified land by 2020.
During the process, oasis protection and construction would serve as an ultimate goal, Zhang added.