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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 06:57 GMT
China's Great Green Wall
Contrasting shots of Beijing
Beijing in a sandstorm (left) and on a clear day (right)
Fifty years of unrelenting development have pushed China's forest cover into retreat.

With fewer trees to block their path, ferocious sandstorms have swept southwards from the Gobi Desert pushing the edge of the sands ever closer to Beijing.

The government has now acted to stem the tide of sand with a planned barrier of trees. This is to be known as China's Great Green Wall.

The planting project will take over 70 years.

New weapon for new war

The Great Green Wall is to fight the moving sands in the way the stone and brick Great Wall was built to hold back the Central Asian warrior horsemen.

2001 has been declared China's 'forest year'

State Administration of Forestry
The Great Green Wall is a project to plant a 4,480km (2,800 mile) shelterbelt of trees across the northwest rim of China skirting the Gobi Desert.

The first phase of this 73-year afforestation programme is coming to an end this year, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Director of the State Administration of Forestry, Zhou Shengxian, said the impact of the programme's first phase is now under evaluation by international experts.

The second phase of the project will be drafted soon, and it will cover the period to 2050.

Forestry authorities have also gone public on their annual plan for new planting and the protection of existing forests.

This year has been declared China's "forest year".

Green belt for China's capital

Mr Zhou noted that the Chinese capital's own five-year anti-desertification project is underway.

Its aim is to increase the forest coverage rate around Beijing from the current 13.4% of land area to 27% by 2005.

The project will greatly reduce the sandstorm threat to Beijing, upon completion, Mr Zhou said.

China's Great Green Wall will cost the government 96.2 bn yuan over the next decade.

This will be money well spent, if it helps convince the International Olympics Committee that Beijing is the best venue for the 2008 games.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Deadly blizzards sweep N China
30 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gourmets 'destroy desert'
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