BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Asia-Pacific
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
China unveils huge conservation plan
Contrasting shots of Beijing
Beijing in a sandstorm (left) and on a clear day (right)
China has announced plans to plant swathes of trees in what officials are describing as the largest conservation effort ever attempted.

Trees will be planted across almost half a million square kilometres - an area larger than Germany - in a 10-year plan with an estimated cost of $12bn.

The Yangtze river has been prone to flooding in recent years
Lei Jiafu, deputy chief of the state forestry administration, who announced the plan, said that despite several smaller-scale attempts, China had so far been unable to reverse the trend of environmental degradation.

Large areas of natural woodland were cleared throughout the last century to create farmland and provide timber for industry.

The rampant deforestation has caused ecological disturbances to wide areas of the countryside - and is being blamed for the life-threatening summer floods on the Yangtze River and the severe spring sandstorms which are a health hazard to millions.

Olympic effort

Over the next 10 years, the Chinese Government hopes to reforest rather than deforest with its massive tree-planting programme.

On Tuesday, Mr Lei gave the most detailed account yet of what he called "unprecedented" plans to stem forest reduction.

China is bracing itself for a huge environmental clean-up ahead of the 2008 Olympics, but the new proposal also aims to combat the blinding sandstorms, flooding, illegal logging, and rapid desertification besetting the country.

panda in a tree
Protected habitats are to be set aside for pandas
Beijing has planted millions of trees since the 1980s in an attempt to stem erosion and dust storms, but there has been little noticeable improvement.

The plans unveiled on Tuesday include six separate projects that range from reforesting hillsides to creating protected reserves for pandas, Tibetan antelopes and rare orchids.

In addition, a seeding programme to convert cropland to woods was projected to raise forest and grass cover by 5%, said Mr Lei.

He estimated that the resulting green belts could reduce wind speeds by 30% to 50% and cut sand and dust levels dramatically.

"If we increase the forest cover, then we can relieve to a certain extent the occurrence of sandstorms," he said.

Concern for the poor

But there is widespread scepticism about China's clean-up campaign.

The situation is particularly polarised in the countryside, where two-thirds of China's 1.3 billion people suffer low incomes and high taxes, and often have no choice but to deforest the land.

Part of the new plan involves subsidising farmers to turn cropland back into forests.

But there is concern that millions of struggling farmers will be forced to sacrifice their cropland and receive little in return.

Mr Lei said that China was under enormous pressure because of high population and economic growth.

But the country's ecological damage has often been driven as much by official policy as by economic and demographic pressures.

Hills were stripped of trees in the 1950s to fuel the steel industry and clear farmland.

And in the 1990s, efforts to expand grain output led to the clearing of more hillsides to make way for farmland in areas with fragile soil that quickly turned to desert.

See also:

24 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dust storm threat to China's crops
08 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Deadly blizzards sweep N China
03 Mar 01 | Media reports
China's Great Green Wall
30 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gourmets 'destroy desert'
09 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
China's floods: Is deforestation to blame?
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's $18bn drought plan bill
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories