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Director of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown
"Dust storms in China are not new"
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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Dust storm threat to China's crops
Image taken from Nasa's earth observatory internet site showing a fast cloud of dust over China
Dust clouds go eastwards, all the way across the Pacific, to north America
North-western parts of China are turning into desert, creating huge dust storms that have reached as far as the United States, a US environmental group has warned.

The desertification process, evident in sandstorms that rage from March to the end of May, could affect food production in China, Lester Brown, chairman of the Earth Policy Institute, told journalists in Washington.


There are too many people, too many cattle and sheep, and too many plows.

Lester Brown
Earth Policy Institute Chairman
"What the Chinese are now faced with is the prospect of massive eastward migration... into the large cities. And that would create even more problems," he said.

Official estimates show 2,330 square kilometres (900 square miles) of land turning to desert in the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Quinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang each year, Mr Brown said.

An area several times as large is suffering a decline in productivity as it is degraded by overuse.

"There are too many people, too many cattle and sheep, and too many ploughs," he said.

"Feeding 1.3 billion people, a population nearly five times that of the United States, is not an easy matter."

Chinese cyclist
Cyclist battles sandstorm head on
China's leaders appear to have "more or less" accepted the fact that the country may no longer be able to feed itself, he said.

The government has changed its policy and lowered the priority given to farm irrigation in the Yellow River basin.

Desertification is not just China's problem.

Pacific no barrier

Dust storms that move eastward across China, the Koreas and Japan this year made it across the Pacific to North America.

On 18 April, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, reported that a huge dust storm from northern China had reached the United States "blanketing areas from Canada to Arizona with a layer of dust."

Camel in the Gobi Desert
Desert sandstorms are spreading
They reported the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were obscured by the dust from China.

Responding to pressures from their constituents, a group of 15 legislators from Japan and eight from South Korea are organising a tri-national committee with Chinese lawmakers to devise a strategy to combat the dust, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

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See also:

27 Feb 01 | Media reports
China on sandstorm alert
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China battles against sand invasion
08 Nov 00 | Americas
UN warns of desertification in Asia
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's $18bn drought plan bill
30 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gourmets 'destroy desert'
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