Harnessing the Ulan Buh Desert

While a recent Los Angeles Times article emphasized the use of water diversion to supply China’s cities, Beijing Review describes ongoing efforts to reclaim Inner Mongolian desert with laborious planting fed by redirection from the Yellow River:

“It is a complicated job,” Ma said. First, people must use heavy machines to roll and level the sand dunes in preparation for planting and then create checkerboards with straw to hold sand. After drilling wells and fetching water, planting shrubs in the checkerboards is the last step.

According to Ma, it is difficult to get enough water by drilling wells because the annual precipitation in the area is only 100 mm and the groundwater level is descending every year.

In order to solve the problem, Dengkou launched a project to introduce water into the desert from the Yellow River, the second longest river in China.

“The project started from July last year, planning to channel 76 million cubic meters of water every year to the desert from the Yellow River,” Ma said ….

In the last 10 years, Dengkou has brought more than 130,000 hectares of the desert under control, forging a 52-km-long green belt on the east edge of the desert and growing many kinds of drought-resistant plants, including saxauls, seabuckthorn, salix and oleaster, Ma said.

Any victory against the sand must, however, be weighed against its cost to a river so heavily exploited that in the 1990s it frequently failed to reach the sea.


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