A Sea of Sand Is Threatening China's Heart

Published: June 8, 2006

Chinese leaders have vowed to protect Minqin and surrounding towns in Gansu Province. The area divides two deserts, the Badain Jaran and the Tengger, and its precarious state threatens to accelerate the spread of barren wasteland to the heart of China.

The national 937 Project, set up to fight the encroaching desert, estimated in April that 1,500 square miles of land, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is buried each year. Nearly all of north central China, including Beijing, is at risk.

Expanding deserts and a severe drought are also making this a near-record year for dust storms carried east in the jet stream. Sand squalls have blanketed Beijing and other northern cities, leaving a stubborn yellow haze in the air and coating roads, buildings, cars and lungs.

Government-led cultivation, deforestation, irrigation and reclamation almost certainly contributed to the desert's advance, which began in the 1950's and the 1960's, and has accelerated. Critics warn that some lessons of past engineering fiascoes remained unlearned.

Full news article.