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Nomadic Tibetans in NW China to Settle into Permanent Homes

A nomadic Tibetan community in northwest China's Gansu Province will soon follow the lead of their kin in Tibet and settle down in permanent brick houses, under a government-led program.

Under the program, more than 73,700 nomadic Tibetans living in Gannan (Southern Gansu) Prefecture will move from their ancestral homes at the headwaters of the Yellow River, a degraded pasture area, in the next five years, Wang Hongwei, head of the headquarters for the resettlement program, said on Monday.

Gannan has a 433-kilometer stretch of the Yellow River, China's second longest. The water supplement in Gannan accounted for about half the river's total runoff at the source region.

However, a growing population and excessive grazing led to the desertification of large areas of pasture in the past 30 years and a 25 percent reduction of the river water.

The population in Gannan, mostly Tibetans, reached 480,000 last year, more than double its 1953 size. Its livestock herds also doubled to more than 2.5 million during this period.

Authorities in Gansu said a 220 km sand dune that covers 53,000hectares has already emerged along the banks of the river's Gannan stretch. Environmentalists warned the area would become a new source of spring sandstorms without prompt treatment.

The resettlement official said that the project is a part of a long-term restoration plan with a state budget of 4.451 billion yuan (US$647 million) in Gannan, which was approved by the central government last year.

Government funding for the settlement of the nomadic Tibetans alone would reach 1.3 billion yuan, said Wang.

The government of Gannan Prefecture took steps in 2004 to encourage Tibetan nomads to rear livestock in fenced shelters instead of moving from place to place to feed their herds.

In addition to assisting Tibetan herders in getting loans to build heated shelters, the prefecture also offered technical help in shelter building and animal husbandry.

Nomadic Tibetan herdsmen in Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region are increasingly settling into fixed residences.

The regional government in Tibet spent more than 1.3 billion yuan in the past two years to help farmers move into brick houses from wood-and-earth residences and help nomadic herders settle down.

The government's housing project will see 80 percent of Tibet's farmers and herders move into permanent houses by 2010.

(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2008)

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