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Is there any cure to Alxa?

http://www.sina.com.cn 2005/06/30 15:25 

  ——Speech made by Doctor Gong Jiadong from Cold District and Drought-hit Area Environment and Engineering Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences at the preparatory meeting for SEE Expert Committee

  Why ecological environment is improving partially yet deteriorating on the whole?

  It is a preparatory meeting for SEE Expert Committee today. As a government official, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everybody present here for your kind attention to Alxa. I think Alxa is not only the Alxa of its people, but also the Alxa of China and even the whole world. I feel so glad that all of you here, especially so many entrepreneurs pay close attention to Alxa. We often meet with such a saying in official reports that our ecological environment is improving partially yet deteriorating on the whole. Why? Total input by the government is considerable, but why improvement is still unsustainable and only restricted within some places subject to ecological projects where environment may deteriorate even more rapidly once the projects end. Ecological environment deterioration in some places involving Alxa is what we can see with our own eyes. I saw obvious environmental degradation during my visits to Alxa over the past 3 years. It is a problem not only for Alxa, but also for the whole China as well. Ecological environment may behave differently in some places. We want to understand the question of our ecological environment in China from Alxa, a territory of 270000 km2. I think Alxa has offered such a condition because of its relatively small population. Ecological environment is a matter of humanity and social concern as well as natural science. Small population is an advantage for us, because there won’t be serious problems caused by our experiments or work that we are free to do in such a large regional range. Frankly speaking, when SEE Ecological Association was built up, I was deeply moved yet doubted if it can survive, if it is feasible for so many entrepreneurs to work on it together? But now I know I was wrong. Chinese entrepreneurs can join hands to work on something as well, for example, the preparatory meeting for Expert Committee today.

  Alxa status quo

  Now I would like to give every expert a brief report on Alxa status quo and how the government manages Alxa. The theme is shown on our ecological comprehensive administration report for internal reference submitted to the State Council in the year before last. Vice-premier Wen Jiabao gave a written reply to this report, based on which I made some modification. First, with a population of 200,000 (made up of 180,000 civilians and some soldiers), among which 15 0,000 resides in towns, Alxa takes up a total area of 270,000 km2, and is divided into 3 districts, or rather, banners, one of which is the location of Eastern Spaceflight City. There are also some military bases here. There are totally 39 Sumu (equivalent to inland county or county-level government). Gacha is equivalent to an inland village. Gross domestic product in 2003.was 3.655 billion Yuan, increased by 20. 1 percent compared with that of last year. The proportion of three industries is 10. 2: 5. 2 : 36. 6. Industry is a mainstay, and mining is the major industry. The tertiary industry takes up 36%, mainly centering on tourism, which, nevertheless, does not receive sufficient development.

  Now I will give an introduction to the geography situation of Alxa. This is Qilian Mountain, and this is Gansu Corridor. The whole area on the north is Alxa, also called a ground sea in geology. It is part of the plateau of Mongolia, also known as Alxa Plateau. It is not smooth. Mang Mountain and other mountain regions cut the whole Alxa apart into the big and small basins. This is Ejinna basin. There are basins among some small mountains in the north, which cut the whole Alxa Plateau apart into big and small basins, between which land is all covered by deserts at present. There are three major deserts totally, but the academia may have different statements. Such is the general environment. Its land structure is that deserts take up 28%, Gobi takes 24%, the remainder are made up of mountainous regions, hills and beaches with availability less than 20%. There is no vegetation basically.

  It has three deserts from east to west. There are also deserts in the north. Each desert has it own characteristics. Ulanbuh is a relatively small desert, where there are still some tillable fields to be developed. Much worse is Tengger Desert, so is Badain Jaran Desert. Though not large, it is the most characteristic desert in our country. Maximum relative height difference between sand dunes in Badain Jaran Desert exceeds 500 meters, top record in the world, which looks extremely grand. Photographs taken by guests from U.S. National Geography during their visit to Alxa the year before the last are very beautiful. It is a typical lake in the desert. Under such abominable natural environment conditions, Alxa ecology has three major ecological protective screens. One is forest belt relying mainly on moustache Yang Lin from the west with the low reaches of the basin of Heihe River, second is a forest belt of northern sacsaoul, the third is that the vegetation in the mountain of Helan, it is a little like the mathematics symbol in shape. Presently, the principal contradiction in Alxa area is caused by the contradiction between fast growing economy and ecological environment deterioration. Alxa economy develops rapidly with annual GDP growth rate up to around 20%, posing an increasingly outstanding contradiction with ecological environment deterioration. On one hand, local people, especially peasants and herdsmen benefit from income increase and life quality improvement brought by economic growth. On the other hand, local ecological environment suffers from worsening deterioration. So this is a problem inurgently need of solution at present. This is the basic situation of Alxa.

  Next, I would like to introduce the main ecological problems in Alxa. First, the degradation of Alxa ecological environment manifests the degradation of three major ecological protective screens as well as some vegetation of desert surrounding areas. For example, we can see directly with our own eyes a lake of more than 2,000 km2 in the past shrink or even dry up. Bio-diversity reduced. Especially an obvious one is the sharp degradation of sacsaoul forest belts, which are now distributed in the shape of spots other than belts, indicating the worsening of desertification. What kind of serious consequences has such phenomenon brought? Some academicians suggest that in our country there are four major sandstorm source areas, among which Gansu Corridor is the largest, while Alxa is the most serious. Besides, all the ways that the sandstorm cold air invades China have to pass through Alxa. On one hand, Alxa is a source area. On the other hand, sandstorms from Alxa affect the whole China and even parts of the world. But it does not mean all the sandstorms come from Alxa. The second is that the several major deserts tend to join together. If these deserts connect together, then there is only Alxa Deserts left. Deserts on the north move very fast. This is the west of Helan Mountain. The movement of Tengger Desert toward the east exerts direct impacts on local living beings, etc. Situation is so dangerous that our top policymakers can’t afford to ignore. The third is aggravating the poor degree of peasants and herdsmen. At the same time sands blown by the wind enter the Yellow River, raising the riverbed dramatically. We know the lower reaches of the Yellow River is a hanging river on the ground, in fact it is also a hanging river on the ground that the river in Inner Mongolia.

  Why has Alxa environment deteriorated so seriously? Let’s take a look at population distribution first. The population of Alxa was about more than 30,000 in the early days of foundation. By latter stage of the fifties, in the difficult periods of three years, a large number of people around migrated in. There was a project of repatriating later, which had reduced some people. There are now already 200,000 people or so in Alxa, equivalent to six times the population at the beginning of liberation. Population growth rate in such a fragile place is much higher than the national average. All the people need food. This place is a traditional pastoral area. There was no planting industry here before the seventies, the domestic animal amount increased rapidly and reached a peak in the eighties, when our country was suffering from severe ecological deterioration and destruction leading to sharp decrease in population. Meanwhile, our livestock structure has also changed. For example, people usually used camels before, but now people seldom use camel, and the economic benefit is not good. The goat amount increased sharply. The cashmere of Alxa is the best, but goats bring much more serious ecological destruction than sheep. This is a man-made problem. Next let’s talk about natural problems. Suppose that our mountains, Gobi deserts and deserts together form a system. The current brings the rocks from mountainous region of Qilian Mountain to lower reaches, leaving tinier sands and dusts which may form sandstorms. Alxa is in a position that forms a connecting link. This determines the ecological environment is very fragile. At the same time, global warming causes an increased incidence of disasters. Another is the drainage basin of Heihe River. There used to be three major river systems in the Hexi; these two could enter into Alxa. Now the two river systems such as Heihe River have already failed basically. The more important thing is the vicious circle formed by natural factors and human factors. That is to say even if it stops immediately now, the ecology will still continue worsening, there is an effect of continuing, viz, a kind of vicious circle. This is the major problems that Alxa faces. But is it possible for us to manage Alxa, where precipitation is less than 200 mm? Do we have the confidence? These are what concern many people and policy makers most. Does Alxa have future?

  Does Alxa have future?

  First of all, I think the ecological administration of Alxa should be a limited goal. Sandstorms exist for more than 2 million years. Our administration is to prevent human activities from accelerating ecological degradation. We can only manage 60000-70000 km2 effectively. The desert itself is a kind of balance.

  We are not going to increase forest coverage. The focal point is places densely inhabited. At the same time we do not hope to have more population. Our government should support those who can go out to go out of Alxa. I think it is a limited goal. Alxa has advantages in resource and population. With a small population and large area, Alxa is especially rich in mineral resources, which serve to support economic development that used to depend on traditional agriculture. This may also cause some destruction to the ecology, and it is a managerial question.

  Second, the harsh natural environment causes species that have adapted to such environment, especially those in suspended animation to grow as soon as there is precipitation. Moreover, we have 1,070,000 hectares of natural forest reserves. It will work if we restore part of the natural forest resources while protecting the existing.

  Does Alxa have water?Total water resource in the whole League now amounts to 1,807 million cubic meters, among which 883 million cubic meters is usable, basically meeting the demand of oasis protection. It is, of course, unrealistic to expand this oasis, because there are so many people after all. As long as we maintain the existing oasis level; we can keep a relatively favorable ecological state. There are other irrigated areas, such as the Yellow River. The key is to make economical and effective use of the existing water resource.

  There is another problem about the west of Helan Mountain, whose topographical slope is quite steep, causing floods to form at the Mountain’s foot once it rains on the Mountain. So we hope to effectively combine flood prevention with using of water resource.

  People who lives in Alxa keep struggling with the desertification from they were born, especially the past twenty or thirty years, this question is more and more outstanding. Through the efforts of government and local people, we have obtained some successes: First, the transformation development strategy we implement as an overall authoritative guideline, and second, the natural forest protection, afforestation and grass cultivation on Helan Mountain. Vegetation on Helan Mountain recovers very well now, and wild animals are in good state, some of which even breed too much. Besides, our aerial seeding proves successful, and there is 1,700,000 mu of forest under preservation on Helan Mountain, where a special climatic condition dominates the west. Another achievement is artificial rain. The project of Heihe River lower reaches rescue and protection has also made some progress, and at the same time, area of natural sacsaoul forest subject to comprehensive administration reaches up to more than 10 million mu. Still another success is the artificial planting of sacsaoul forest and Cistanche deserticola YC Ma. These facts demonstrate the prosperous future of Alxa ecology.

  Treat deserts kind

  Now, I will talk about what we should do, viz., the overall thinking of ecological control.

  Firstly, we should fix our attention on national policies, especially the strategy of development of western regions beneficial to Alxa ecological control. Ecological problems come first. In the development of western regions, problems in urgent need of solution are the three major ecological protective screens and key districts in outlying desert areas. Its center is to impel it to resume the intact ecological protective screen function. Secondly, we should carry on a shifting development strategy. People used to say “man can conquer nature”, but in fact man cannot make it, and we must abandon this kind of idea. We should drive the sand to retreat by our retreat, improve herdsmen’s traditional production and life styles, and what’s more important, strictly control and adjust the scope and content of human activities, mainly by transferring out peasants and herdsmen sparsely inhabiting the desert, and setting up depopulated zone at places not fit for mankind to live in. Thirdly, we should treat deserts kind, without destroying them, without exploiting them in the way we used to do. Fourthly, we should guarantee the water available for ecological purpose, and improve effectiveness of water use, especially of unit water use, because water is very important to dry areas. Finally, we should consider how to reduce poverty of local peasants and herdsmen. No ecological construction could be a success if it made local peasants and herdsmen poorer and poorer. Now Alxa industry has been integrated into three sectors: grass planting and breeding industries in oasis, green vegetable industry which enjoys good prospects if benefiting from Israeli experience, and characteristic sand industry including Cistanche deserticola YC Ma industry.

  The overall thinking can be summarized into three words: shifting, protection, and construction. That is to say we should attract peasants and herdsmen to withdraw from traditional production through urban construction, which is a matter of utmost concern to us all. Of course, it is also essential to protect ecological environment. Key projects can be divided into seven major districts according to the regional overall arrangement. It is OK for us to protect large deserts and Gobi deserts by legislation or protective measures. Other projects involve animal and plant conservation, Ejingna natural ecosystem protection zone, as well as sand fixation in the edge of shuttleless etc…

  The Principle for moving and shifting is to concentrate people in cities and towns, farming and animal husbandry in oasises, and industry in industrial parks, which must be combined with industrialization. Moving and shifting include some concrete measures, such as compensations. Another is the protection project actually mentioned just now, and, the problem of plant diseases and insect pests. Construction projects are located in key places densely populated. Still another is the science and technology which includes measuring and tackling of key scientific and technical problems. Finally, we should popularize education on science and technology for local ordinary people. Major projects under implementation are Wildwood Protection Project including aerial seeding and cultivation of natural arbor and bush, Reforestation of Farmland Project, Construction Project of Wildlife and Nature Reserves with total area up to 8.7% of that of the League, and the Project of Returning Farmland to Grassland.

  (Excerpted from minutes of preparatory meeting for Expert Committee)

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