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Saturday, January 3, 1998 Published at 16:25 GMT


China sows seeds for environment
image: [ Industrial development has caused severe ecological damage to the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. ]
Industrial development has caused severe ecological damage to the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys.

China will plant 26 million hectares of forest over the next 30 years to tackle environmental damage.

The long-term project, announced by China's Forestry Ministry, proposes planting millions of trees to combat severe water and soil erosion in the valleys of its two largest rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, and in the remote north-west and south-west of the country.

The two river valleys in total account for an estimated one quarter of China's land mass, but they have been severely affected by climate change and by the impact of rapid industrial development. At least 40% of the area reportedly suffers from erosion.

The director of planning at the Forestry Ministry, Lei Jia Fu, was quoted in the official China Daily newspaper as saying that the massive ecological protection scheme would cost as much as $27bn dollars over a 33-year period.

A pilot programme of reafforestation is due to begin in selected areas this year, with the target of bringing 60% of the erosion under control by the year 2030.

China has already started a series of afforestation projects, but Mr Lei said the new scheme was different in that the majority of the funding would be met by the central government, rather than by local authorities or farmers themselves.

The BBC Beijing correspondent says authorities face a huge task as they try to balance their aim of protecting the environment with their desire for rapid cost-free economic growth.

Environmentalists say China has passed a range of tough environmental laws, but economic concerns mean that implementation at the local level can be difficult.

In addition, the environmental impact of the government's own projects, such as the massive Three Gorges hydro-electric dam on the Yangtze River, is still not fully known.

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