Desert greening reduces flow of sand into China's mother river

In early autumn, trees and shrubs are still flourishing on the banks of the Xiliugou, a tributary of the Yellow River, which runs through the hinterland of the Kubuqi Desert in north China.

The desert vegetation drawing throngs of shutterbugs and travel enthusiasts is actually the result of sand barriers planted by Elion Resources Group, a leading Chinese green industry enterprise on the Ordos Plateau, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to prevent moving sand dunes from invading the Yellow River. Over the years, the expanding man-made green belt has turned into a new scenic spot.

Scenery of the Qixing Lake and trees on its bank in Kubuqi Desert. /CFP
Scenery of the Qixing Lake and trees on its bank in Kubuqi Desert. /CFP

Scenery of the Qixing Lake and trees on its bank in Kubuqi Desert. /CFP

The Yellow River, China's second-longest, flows over 840 km in Inner Mongolia, home to several of the country's major deserts.

Among them, Kubuqi, the seventh-largest desert in China, is also known as the desert closest to the national capital of Beijing. Located around 800 km north of Beijing, this desert spans an area of about 14,100 square km along the curve of the Yellow River, making it a major source of the sandstorms that hit the Chinese capital.

Xiliugou, a stream 106.5 km in length, washes about 4.8 million tonnes of sand on average a year into the Yellow River.

There are 10 Yellow River tributaries, including Xiliugou on the Ordos Plateau, which together contribute about one-tenth of the total sand sediment in the Yellow River.

"Before the sand barriers were built in Xiliugou, moving sand dunes often blocked the waterway," said Zhang Yongping, director of the water resources bureau of Dalad Banner in the city of Ordos.

Since 2000, the county government of Dalad has invested 220 million yuan (about $30 million) in efforts to curb the flow of sand into the river through afforestation.

"The survival rate of a planted tree here was about 20 percent some 30 years ago. With the continuous upgrading of desert greening technology, the rate can now exceed 80 percent," said Li Ting, a sand control engineer with the Elion Resources Group.

In December 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) honored Wang Wenbiao, chairman of the company, as well as five other inspirational environmental leaders, with the Champions of the Earth Award for their efforts in the battle against desertification.

Over three decades of desert greening efforts have effectively reduced the average height of moving sand dunes that threaten the Yellow River from about 100 meters to 30 meters. Elion has contributed by planting a green belt of about 170 km long and about 1 km to 3 km wide on the desert edge along the banks of the Yellow River.

Water carries a large amount of sand in the Yellow River. /CFP
Water carries a large amount of sand in the Yellow River. /CFP

Water carries a large amount of sand in the Yellow River. /CFP

Elion has also played a significant role in the Kubuqi desert control project, where it has built over a dozen plant seed protection bases, collecting and storing about 1,040 varieties of germplasm resources with strong adaptability to sandy land. It has also cultivated more than 100 kinds of desert shrub species suitable for sand-control planting.

The company has accumulated 244 patented technologies for sand control and ecological protection and achieved more than 400 scientific and technological innovations in sand control.

Benefiting from such scientific support, comprehensive measures for curbing soil erosion in the Yellow River basin of Inner Mongolia have been implemented across an expanse of 14.43 million mu (962,000 hectares) since 2019.

The amount of sand washed into the Yellow River by its 10 tributaries on the Ordos Plateau has shrunk from 27 million tonnes before 2018 to about 18 million tonnes at present.

The regional government has vowed to continue desert greening efforts, setting this year's afforestation target at 5.5 million mu in the river basin.

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Source(s): Xinhua News Agency

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