Inner Mongolia: reign of sand

A vast Chinese grassland – and a way of life – are turning to dust in an ancient land of breathtaking scenery. W Chad Futrell reports from a battleground in the fight between China’s development and its resource management.

An Asian Sahara of sand is moving closer every year to Beijing, blackening the sky, and producing environmental refugees and social unrest in Inner Mongolia and throughout China.

“Desertification is not a natural function,” said John D Liu, an American-born journalist, researcher and director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP) for China, a 10-year-old environmental organisation based in Beijing. “Scientifically what’s happening is that the grasslands are losing natural infiltration and retention of water, which is altering respiration and evaporation rates. That affects relative humidity, and potentially precipitation in other regions.”

“Socially and politically, what you are talking about are policy decisions made in earlier eras — from the 1950s to the 1990s — and now those mistakes are really biting them,” added Liu, who’s lived and worked in China since 1979. “They have to deal with the decisions made in those years. And in Inner Mongolia those decisions have produced some horrific consequences. Large areas of the region have been massively devegetated.”


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