The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, has reported the construction of a 4,480 kilometre (2,800 mile) ‘Green Great Wall’ in a bid to contain the onslaught of the advancing Gobi Desert in the country’s northwest. The project has been made necessary by unrelenting urban development which has brought sandstorms ever closer to the capital, Beijing. Director of the State Administration of Forestry Zhou Shengxian said the project will greatly reduce the sandstorm threat to the city of more than 12 million inhabitants.

The natural barrier is the first phase of a 73-year afforestation programme which was “under evaluation by international experts” for its effectiveness, Zhou said. He announced that it would cost some 96.2 billion yuan, or US$11.6 billion, over the next decade. The forestry sector was shifting from being a profit-seeking business to being more environmentally friendly, he said, adding that forest protection will be one of his administration’s major tasks. This year was also named as China’s ‘Forest Year’. A recent UN survey showed that China is the world’s biggest planter of forests (see related story).

The government also announced that separate five-year anti-desertification project around Beijing, which aims to raise the forest coverage rate of this region from the current 13.4% to 27% in 2005, and that afforestation projects in other areas were also underway, such as in coastal areas and along the Yangtze River and Dongting and Poyang lakes.

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