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Unlikely Tour in the Trail of Desertification

时间:2010-06-07 00:23来源:mslamli.wordpress.com 作者:林俐 点击:
Dear friends, I am writing to you from a tiny village named Guodong, in the MinqinCounty of Gansu Province in Northwest China. This is the first stop of my four-month Silk Road trip. The Minqin County of China is battling against desertification. Li

      Dear friends,
      I am writing to you from a tiny village named Guodong, in the Minqin County of Gansu Province in Northwest China. This is the first stop of my four-month Silk Road trip.    

The Minqin County of China is battling against desertification.

      Like most parts in Minqin County – a shrinking oasis sandwiched by two advancing deserts – Guodong Village is dry and sandy. On a windy day, which most days are, sands would sweep in from the nearby Tengger Desert, coating everything with dust.    

      And if what the locals called “black wind” hit the County, the ferocity of the wind would trigger massive sandstorm, reducing visibility to zero, turning daylight to darkness, and destroying crops and homes. Such a storm had wrecked havoc in the County just a month before I arrived.    

      The villagers are puzzled by my choice of travel destination. To them, to say that I am here for a leisure trip would sound like a mockery.    

      Am I here to enjoy the regular dust storm? Or am I here to taste the bitter underground water due to over exploitation of aquifers? Or am I here to admire the sight of a village being swallowed up by the desert?    

      This has become an unlikely tour in the trail of desertification……    

      Located in the main path of the ancient Silk Road, the Minqin County I have learned from text was named the Emerald in the Desert.    

      It was an oasis full of lakes and streams, blessed with fertile land and good harvest. It was a natural barrier between two deserts – the Tengger Desert in the east and the Badain Juran Desert in the west. It was an ideal resting point for the ancient trade caravans.    

Man-made barrier is erected in the desert to prevent sand movement.

 

       But today, 94.5% of the area in the County has succumbed to desertification, as the two deserts eating into the oasis and heading for a merger. With lakes and rivers drying up, the locals have turned to tapping underground water, causing its level to drop by 0.5 to one meter per year; and at this rate, it could also run dry in 17 years.    

      Population explosion, over cultivation of land, and over exploration of underground water are among the main reasons for desertification in Minqin County. The worsening environment is now forcing many farmers to desert their homeland and resettle elsewhere.    

      Contrary to the flow of eco-refugee moving out of Minqin, I have met a young chap in Guodong Village who quit his job in the city, and returned to defend his homeland from the advancing desert.    

      Ma Junhe, 29, is a self-made environmental activist. Born and bred in Guodong Village, he had once runaway from the dust-coated village before completing high school. He took on odd jobs and traveled far and wide across China, until one day in 2003, he learned of the desertification problem in his homeland from an internet forum.    

      “When I was younger, it never struck me that the frequent sandstorms and all the dried riverbeds were environmental problems. To me, those were just part of my living condition, something normal,” recalls Ma.      

      Since the reawakening, he has started reading up and researching on desertification, and even traveled to Ningxia and Inner Mongolia to learn about ways to prevent and rehabilitate desertified lands.    

      Later in 2007, he teamed up with a few friends who had earlier set up a website named “Save Minqin”, and started mobilizing volunteers to revegetate a piece of desertified land measuring some 34 hectares in the fringe of Guodong Village.    

      To date, volunteers have planted some 18,000 saxaul trees (a type of desert vegetation that requires minimal water) on that piece of land now renamed Guodong Eco-Base. Though the area is still full of sands, some wild plants and even flowers have started taking roots in the desert as land-rehabilitation continues.     

A young saxaul tree, its needle-shape leaves prevent water evaporation.

 

       For the last two weeks, I have been traveling up and down the Minqin County. I have visited the Lake District up north, which today is nothing more than a meeting point of two deserts.    

The Green Earth Lake has dissapeared since 1959, leaving shells in the sandy ground to wind erosion.

 

       What used to be a 400 sq km Green Earth Lake is now an expansive sandy ground, with shells that once lied in the bottom of the lake exposing to wind erosion. Nearby villages have come under government-driven relocation program, as water scarcity has affected livelihood and posed health hazard – mineral content in the underground water is too high, no longer safe for drinking.    

      Here and there in the County heavily dependent on agricultural activities, I do see efforts of containing sand movements, mainly government initiatives, but local grass root movement like what Ma is championing seems to be a rare breed.    

      Local farmers are more concerned of their livelihood than participating in the fight against desertification, unless they are drafted by the government to work on specific projects.    

      The farmers often feel trapped in the battle against nature. On one hand, they do know that desertification if left unattended would further encroach into their farmlands; but on the other hand, when the government restricts the size of farmland allotted to each family, and orders some farmers to give up land and grazing herds without substitute livelihood, the measures have become a massive blow to their survival.    

      In the end, farmers who have lost their land, but official compensation is barely enough for food and basic sustenance, are forced to become migrant workers elsewhere. According to the locals, the Minqin-origin population now residing elsewhere is probably more than those remained in the County.         

      Perhaps, the migration of eco-refugees is a way of re-establishing equilibrium.    

      The fragile oasis has been over-taxed for the past decades, or even centuries. As more and more people opted out, the exhausted land might find space to recuperate; and those who remain and persevere in rehabilitating desertified lands might win a chance to see the re-birth of a glorious oasis.    

      And thereafter, may be, and very likely, the cycle of fertile land attracts human inflow, leads to over cultivation, and eventually causes land degrading would start all over again.        

      June 6, 2010    

Agriculture is the main economic activities in Minqin County, China.

 

Women in Minqin County always wear scarf and face mask in the outdoor to protect themselves from the dusty weather.

 

The highest point in Minqin County -- Suwu Hill; on top of the hill is the ruined watch tower built during the Ming Dynasty.

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