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Anti-desertification efforts in Yellow River basin bear fruit
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Once a befouled, odorous body of water that was the result of decades of mining, Ulansuhai Nur, the biggest lake in the Yellow River basin located in Urad Front Banner of Bayannur, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, is taking on a brand new view of a bird paradise laden with various green plants and lucid water.

Shi Zhigang is a local farmer who settled many years ago near the Ulan Buh Desert, where desertification issues were severe. This worsened the ecological conditions of the Ulansuhai Nur and even the Yellow River. "Those were the days when sandstorms always kept us from going outdoors. When the storms darkened the sky, we couldn't even open the doors and windows that were blocked by sand," Shi said.

"Aside from the impact from the Ulan Buh Desert, what made protection work even harder is that the area is confronting multiple impacts brought by the environmental issues of neighboring areas, such as water and soil erosion at Wula Mountain and landslide issues in nearby mining areas," said Jia Haiyuan, project manager with Third Construction Co Ltd of China Construction First Group (CSCEC1B3), a unit of China State Construction Engineering Group Co Ltd.

With the area facing tough and numerous environmental issues, Ulansuhai Nur has an area "awaiting cleanup" of its 14,700 square kilometers, making it the "hardest nut to crack" among its peers, which was exactly what the company was facing back in June 2019, when it came here to work with the local government to make fundamental changes to the area.

"Our first step was dealing with the sand, as reducing the amount of sediment that flows into the Yellow River is a key start to the overall project. To this end, we have to restore the soil-fixing capacity of the whole area, and that's why we have been planting trees and grasses constantly," Jia said, adding that the plants they used to fix soil can also generate income for participating farmers, such as cistanche bushes and fruit trees.

What's more, the project team planned a welfare forest on nearly 670 hectares of land to help with poverty alleviation, and guided local herdsmen and villagers to plant fruit trees and to steward the land. So far, 1,200 local villagers have taken part in forestation efforts, with 100 residents living in poverty now earning an additional 8,000 yuan ($1,185) monthly during harvest seasons.

To better help the local government with forest and grass restoration, the project team leveraged an unmanned aerial vehicle sowing system, and completed the aerial sowing of 667 hectares of sandy terrain in the area.

Together with 1,533 hectares of economic forest planting, CSCEC1B3 said these efforts will effectively help prevent soil erosion and improve the ecological environment of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River.

The project has achieved remarkable results. The team led by Jia has laid about 32 million sod squares in the desert, planted 13.32 million haloxylon saplings, laid 157 kilometers of sand-traversing roads, repaired an area of 66.505 square kilometers of mines and planted 1,963 hectares of trees.

The ecology of the Yellow River is now turning for the better and has seen major improvements, with biodiversity effectively improved. According to local authorities, over 260 bird species either live at the lake or rest there as they migrate. Their number totals 6 million, but no previous figures are available for comparison because of a lack of observation.

After the completion of this project, a total of 1 million cubic meters of sand will be withheld from flowing into the Yellow River every year. The water ecological security of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River will be further enhanced and guaranteed, helping more people living in these areas earn more income.



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