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    Wetlands key to national development
Liang Chao
2004-06-29 06:28

China's forestry authority plans to protect more than 70 per cent of the country's wetlands by 2020 as part of a national ecosystem rehabilitation effort and to sustain the economy.

"In the next 16 years, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) will carry out a national programme aimed at intensifying wetlands' protection and further contribute to the sustainable development of China's economy, as well as social progress," a senior official said yesterday in Beijing.

Zhou Shengxian, the adminis-tration's top official, said by 2020 China will have almost 600 wetland reserves covering more than 70 per cent of the country's total natural wetlands.

The administration said there are 38.49 million hectares of key wetlands across China, each covering at least 100 hectares.

To date, China has contributed to global wetlands conservation by putting 21 designated wetlands reserves on the International Important Marsh list.

The administration has drafted a national regulation governing the protection of wetlands, Zhou confirmed, adding it will be submitted soon for State Council approval.

"Legislation is of vital importance for authorities to improve wetlands protection and to tackle issues threatening sustainable use of wetlands," Zhou noted.

He added that officials hope local governments will improve their legal measures for wetlands protection.

In the first phase of the plan to be completed by 2010, China's wetlands reserves will amount to 443 areas capable of shielding 60 per cent of the country's wetlands.

By then, Zhou said officials are confident that shrinkage of wetland areas and degradation of natural functions will be controlled with an established network, making related administration, legal work, scientific research and monitoring systems more integrated.

To realize the goal, priorities will be given to wetlands reserves of international importance, rehabilitation of marshes's functions along key rivers, restructuring farming in some as pilot projects, improvement of swamps resources and monitoring changes.

The administration is urging local authorities to take measures protecting as many wetlands as possible and to hold up random occupation, reclamation and pollution of such resources for any other purpose.

Many wetlands have long been plagued by environmental problems, including pollution by chemical fertilizer, over exploitation of biological resources like fish, buildup of silts and unwise use of biological resources, experts have warned.

China has the largest wetlands areas in Asia, covering about 65 million hectares, which is 10 per cent of the world total.

Chinese wetlands are also home to 1,540 varieties of plants and 1,500 species of animals, including 300 species of waterfowl, which accounts for a fourth of China's bird families.

They can range from the size of village ponds to lakes, bogs, marshes, rivers, desert oasis and vast delta areas.

(China Daily 06/29/2004 page2)