Efforts to hold back march of the sand

Farmer Guo Kaiming has planted rows of trees by a new cross-desert highway in an effort to block the wind and stabilise the soil.
Farmer Guo Kaiming has planted rows of trees by a new cross-desert highway in an effort to block the wind and stabilise the soil.PHOTO: NYTIMES

TENGGER DESERT (Inner Mongolia) • For years, China's deserts spread at an annual rate of more than 3,300 sq km. Many villages have been lost.

Climate change and human activities have accelerated desertification. China says government efforts to relocate residents, plant trees and limit herding have slowed or reversed desert growth in some areas.

But the usefulness of those policies is debated by scientists, and deserts are expanding in critical regions of the country. One of them is the Tengger Desert which lies on the southern edge of the massive Gobi Desert, not far from major cities such as Beijing.

As the Tengger expands, it is merging with two other deserts to form a vast sea of sand that could become uninhabitable. Nearly 20 per cent of China is desert, and drought across the northern region is getting worse.

One recent estimate said China had 54,400 sq km more desert than what existed in 1975 - about the size of Croatia.

Residents who live on the edge of the deserts try to limit the steady march of the sand. Along with local governments, they plant trees in an effort to block the wind and stabilise the soil.

Mr Guo Kaiming, 40, a farmer who also manages a tourist park at the edge of the Tengger Desert, planted rows of trees by a new cross-desert highway in June.

He took saplings that the government had left behind after it completed a tree-planting operation. He said he was not ready to join the climate refugees. He has his corn and wheat fields, plus income from running the tourist park.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Efforts to hold back march of the sand'. Print Edition | Subscribe