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UN expert lauds China's desertification solutions

By ZHENG JINRAN | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-09-12 18:00

China has found workable solutions to desertification, as shown by successful projects like Saihanba National Forest Park, which is important for China and the rest of the world, according the UN's top environmental protection expert.

Since 1962, when workers started planting trees, Saihanba National Forest Park, 150 kilometers from Beijing in Hebei province, has seen the forest coverage in the area soar from 12 percent to 80 percent, accoridng to data from 2016.

Saihanba, the largest man-made forest in the world, forms a natural barrier against sandstorms that protects the public health of millions of people living in the capital and its neighboring regions.

"The transformation of Saihanba is the result of more than 55 years of hard work by several generations of experts. ... That is a triumph of patience and determination," Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme said in an exclusive interview.

He has personally witnessed the successful outcome of similar work like Saihanba recently in the Kubuqi Desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The total area of greenery in the desert, the seventh-largest in China, has expanded by more than 6,000 square kilometers in the past three decades, according to data from the regional government.

"It's a case of getting the science right, and being able to think big and take that vision forward with determined leadership," Solheim said, adding that the patience to think long-term is also necessary, which has been proven in the 55-year efforts in Saihanba Forest Farm.

"Desertification is not just a major problem for China. Nations like Iran and Iraq face similar problems, as do countries in the Sahel region of Africa, and even parts of the United States. In areas of the Middle East, desertification is also a huge public health issue. We know that this kind of environmental degradation also drives instability and conflict."

Thus it's inspiring to see "the clear, workable examples of how these kinds of problems can be tackled", he said. "This is not just important for China, but for the rest of the world, too."

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