Desertification Threatening China’s Human, Economic HealthJanuary 28, 2008 By Linden EllisChina has begun to reverse the high rates of desertification that have plagued it for decades, reported China Daily on January 24. Thanks to the efforts of communities, NGOs, and local governments, China’s deserts are now shrinking by 7,585 kilometers a year, in contrast to their annual growth rate of 10,400 square kilometers in the late 1990s. Yet 400 million Chinese remain affected by desertification: Erosion—particularly due to wind—can cause violent sand storms, forcing people from their homes and threatening the economies of major Asian cities including Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo. Human health effects include respiratory and eye infections. For more on the health effects of desertification, see “Desertification and Environmental Health Trends in China,” a research brief by the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum (CEF).
In August 2007, CEF and water NGO Circle of Blue assembled a group of desertification experts and photographers to take a five-day car ride from Beijing into eastern Inner Mongolia in northeast China, one of the regions that has suffered most from desertification. On their drive into the ocean of sand, the team gathered stories, photos, and video to put a human face on China’s desertification crisis. The result of their trip is a multimedia report, “Reign of Sand,” which explains that the primary causes of China’s increasingly frequent and severe sand storms—most of which originate in Inner Mongolia, home to the largest grasslands on earth—are the ecological mismanagement of this region and deepening drought in northern China.
By CEF Program Assistant Linden Ellis.