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Region Bids to Turn Desert into Forest

A massive environmental protection project, including an ambitious plan to convert thousands of hectares of dry open land into forest, has been approved for the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in Northwest China.

This follows the recent release of an environmental impact report of the east part of Ningxia Helan Mountain by region's environment protection administration.

A project package of 197 million yuan (US$25.3 million) will fund a number of ecological protection and construction projects to improve water resources, ecological resources, and wetlands.

The package will also boost biodiversity protection, eco-industry and cultural relics protection.

"The aim of the project is to eliminate poverty in the mountainous areas, provide basic social services and social security, curb the desertification process and protect ecological environment in arid areas in Ningxia," Qiang Xiaoyuan, an official with the region's environment protection administration, said.

The project is one of the sub-projects of Ningxia Helan Mountain integrative ecosystem management project, which started in early 2006, with a loan of US$100 million from the Asian Development Bank and US$10 million from the Global Environment Fund.

"These foreign funds have been used to curb land degradation and reduce poverty in Ningxia," Qiang said.

Helan Mountain, stretching 250 kilometers, was listed as national nature reserve by the State Council in 1988.

"When the integrative ecosystem management project is completed in 2012, 22,107 hectares of new afforestation area will be built in the areas of 41,333 hectares near the Helan Mountain, making the total afforestation area there increase from present 4,400 hectares to 26,507 hectares," the regional environmental official said.

"If the project is fulfilled, the control rate of the soil erosion area will reach 95 percent, and more than 90 percent of desertification area will be improved."

(China Daily March 29, 2007)

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