Taiwanese environmentalist helping Xinjiang stem desertification (Google / Taiwan News)

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http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=894254&lang=eng_news

Taiwanese environmentalist helping Xinjiang stem desertification

Central News Agency
2009-03-16 10:59 PM

Taipei, March 16 (CNA) A Taiwanese environmentalist has organized a 15-member team to join his ambitious project to stop the expansion of the Taklamakan Desert in China’s Xinjiang province through reforestation.Wender Yang, president of the HIMA Foundation and organizer of the New Loulan Project, and his team plan to leave for Xinjiang April 25 to dig 15 water wells in the Taklamakan and plant more than 100 diversiforme-leaved poplar trees, which are suitable for growth in arid regions.

The poplar tree’s roots can reach down 10 meters to the underground water table. They not only can retain water, but can hold sand together.

According to Yang, it will cost NT$10,000 to grow a tree and NT$70,000 to dig a well in the desert. To support the work, he has raised funds from Taiwan County Magistrate Su Huna-chih, super model Lin Chi-ling, politicians, members of two local chapters of the Rotary Club, and private enterprises.

The photographs of each tree and water well will be posted on the foundation’s Web site and identified by the names of individual donors. The trees’ growth can be monitored on Goggle Earth, he said.

Yang expressed the hope that more people will join the project to prevent the further expansion of the Taklimakan Desert, which has been the source of dust storms affecting Asia.

Statistics show that the desert in Xinjiang province has been increasing by 168 square kilometers each year.

The Taklamakan Desert, the largest desert in China, obliterated Loulan — a sprawling kingdom of 360,000 square kilometers on the Silk Road sometime in the fourth or fifth century.

It is believed that the ancient city of Loulan vanished in the Tang dynasty because of deforestation.

Today, some descendants of Loulan — about 800 households — still live in areas where underground water can be found. They build their homes under the shade of diversiform-leaved poplar trees.

The Taklamakan has been expanding and could soon merge with the Lop Desert to the west and become a much larger desert.

Yang gave up his NT$5 million-a-year job as an executive in the Asian operations of a listed Wall Street company in 2002 and launched the ambitious New Loulan Project to stop desertification in Xinjiang.

His HIMA Foundation has helped local Loulan descendants re-vegetate the desert around the historical region, hiring them to turn 5 square kilometers of desert land into blooming flower beds of apocynum venetum, also known as Indian Hemp.

The plant is said to have medicinal value because its flowers and leaves can be made into tea that helps reduce blood pressure, while its fiber is good for making thread and weaving quality clothing.

(By Han Nai-kuo)

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About Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.
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