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Plan Launched to Protect Lake

The country's largest inland saltwater lake is getting a fresh injection of funds to protect its ecology and surroundings, in the latest bid by authorities to guard the environment of the northwest China.

The central government has approved the investment of 1.57 billion yuan (US$216 million) over the next 10 years to protect and enhance the Qinghai Lake area, sources with the Qinghai provincial development and reform commission said on Friday.

The decade-long project aims to help conserve wetlands, restore grassland, control rats and pests, prevent desertification, plant trees, resettle residents, provide drinking water to rural areas and improve waterways, a commission spokesman told the Xinhua News Agency.

"The project will not only help conserve the ecological environment of the Qinghai Lake valley and prevent the lake's water level from falling, but also improve the living condition of farmers and herdsmen," the spokesman said.

Perched more than 3,200 m above sea level, the 4,300-sq-km lake, in the northeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is home to 189 species of birds and acts as a crucial barrier against the desert spreading from west to east.

The lake attracts large numbers of tourists, which in turns boosts the amount of pollution. Much of the waste produced by hotels and restaurants is discharged into the lake without being properly treated, the spokesperson said.

The lake is also threatened by global warming and encroaching deserts, experts have said.

Figures from the provincial environmental protection administration show that the lake shrunk by 380 sq km between 1959 and 2006, and the average water level dropped 3 m to the current level of 18 m.

Nearly 112,000 hectares of land around the lake have suffered from desertification brought on by overgrazing and global warming, the provincial forestry department has said.

In a bid to curb the ecological degeneration of the lake, the government has already spent 470 million yuan on recovering plants around the lake and dealing with desertification.

The local government has also banned fishing in the lake since 1982.

Kang Xiaoguang, a professor at the Renmin University of China, said the government has achieved a great deal with its ecological treatment programs, especially in the northwest.

For example, since 2000, when it launched a series of water diversion schemes along the Heihe River, the water level of Dongjuyan Lake in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in the lower reaches of the river, has increased significantly, with trees and grasslands also being recovered.

(China Daily January 8, 2008)

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