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China Creates 'Man-made Oasis' Along Longest Inland River

China has created a "man-made oasis" along its longest inland river in the arid northwest, through planting trees and grass and infusing lake water into the river with its lower reaches drying up 30 years ago.

In the past seven years, the Tarim River Administration has infused 2.3 billion cubic meters of water from lakes 300 km away into the 1,321-km river that flows along the rim of the barren Tarim Basin, a sparsely populated area about the size of Poland.

The waterway is the "mother river" feeding 43.5 square kilometers of oasis inhabited by at least 8 million people -- 80 percent of whom are Uygurs. They account for about 40 percent of the population in theXinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region.

"The infusion has resumed water flow in the lower reaches and saved the Euphrates poplars from extinction," said Yu Tao, an official with the administration.

The Euphrates poplars with golden leaves of various shapes draw large crowds of tourists and photographers to the Tarim Basin every autumn.

The poplars used to cover 54,000 hectares in the Tarim Basin in the 1950s. Yet excessive cultivation and lack of water pushed the trees to the verge of extinction over the past three decades.

The eight water infusion projects conducted since 2000 have expanded the water surface in the lower reaches of the Tarim Riverby 149 square kilometers and 180 square kilometers of vegetations have been restored, said Yu.

"Aquatic birds, red deer, hares and wild boars have reappeared in the Euphrates poplar forests," he said.

Tarim River used to end at Lop Nur Lake, once the largest saltwater lake in China that has gone dry due to environmental deterioration.

Ambitious land reclamation activities along the river over the past five decades also squandered too much water in irrigation, causing 320 kilometers of the Tarim River in its lower reaches to run dry in the early 1970s and the Taklimakan desert on its south to sprawl faster.

To curb ecological degradation, the Chinese government launched a 10.7 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) restoration project in 2000, including water infusions from the Bosten Lake north of the river, waterway harnessing, construction of more water storage facilities and underground water development.

China has tried for years to fight the expansion of desert in its northwest by carefully maintaining barriers of trees around farming areas. In some areas, authorities are trying to convert desert into fertile land.

Xinjiang covers one-sixth of China's land area, but much of it is desert.

(Xinhua News Agency September 15, 2007)

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