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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
China battles against sand invasion
Beijing in a sandstorm (left); Beijing on a clearer day (right)
Beijing in a sandstorm (left); Beijing on a clearer day (right)
By Adam Brookes in Longbaoshan, North China

The Chinese capital, Beijing, has this year experienced a series of exceptionally heavy sandstorms.

The Chinese government blames them on a process of desertification that is taking place across north China.

Chinese leaders are now calling for drastic measures to stop the spread of China's deserts.

'A biblical curse'

A Beijing sandstorm feels like a biblical curse. An eerie yellow colour stains the sky.

The dune was way off over there. But just in the last few years, its begun to move towards us, very quickly.

Li Ming Jiang, farmer
A fine, strangely pungent grit burns the eyes and skin.

It coats absolutely everything.

This year the sandstorms have been the worst in living memory and large parts of north China are turning into desert.

The sandstorms are threatening to swallow the village of Longbaoshan. The first of its houses will begin to disappear beneath the dunes in about two years time.

Li Ming Jiang: May lose home to the desert
Li Ming Jiang: May lose home to the desert
Digging has become a way of life for Li Ming Jiang, a farmer. His house will become the first to vanish under the encroaching sand.

He will lose his apple trees and his modest living.

"The dune was way off over there," he says pointing to a sand hill over his right shoulder.

"But just in the last few years, it has begun to move towards us, very quickly."

The dune crawls closer, by 20 metres, every year. The villagers can only wait and watch as this silent invader creeps down their streets and into their homes.

They say that they do not know where they will go or how they will live.

This is the human cost of deforestation and overgrazing. When the grasslands and forests disappear, the desert begins to move, carried on the wind.

Tree planting remedy

Sand gets into the eyes of cyclist
Sand gets into the eyes of cyclist
An anxious Chinese government is demanding tree planting campaigns.

Around Longbaoshan schoolchildren are speckling the plains with skinny saplings in the hope that they will take root and tie down the shifting sands.

There are logging bans too. The government is offering free grain to farmers who turn over their fields to trees.

China's leaders admit publicly that these efforts are not enough.

Across China the deserts are growing by 200 square km every month.

In Longbaoshan the future is forfeit to environmental degradation - and the ever-shifting sand dunes.

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