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China should help Mongolia restore its ecological balance

China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-24 08:04

The traffic is shrouded in sand and dust as a sandstorm hits Beijing on Wednesday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The dust and sand weather has set in across a number of northern Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shizuishan in Ningxia, Changchun in Jilin, and Shijiazhuang in Hebei in the past days, with the smell of sediment filling the air.

In recent years sandstorms seemed to be saying goodbye to China's northern regions, so the latest incursion makes people wonder if they can really be eliminated for good.

China's northern regions have been reporting fewer dust storms over the years, proof that the country's dust control efforts — such as national greening, afforestation, and shelterbelt building projects launched in the past decades across its northwestern, northern and northeastern regions — have paid off.

According to statistics provided by the United Nations, China ranks first in newly-increased global green areas in the world, being responsible for more than 25 percent of new green areas from 2000 to 2017.

However, China's dust control measures have primarily focused on controlling dust sources, which can be reduced by planting shelterbelts. However, they cannot be completely controlled, as they are usually 10-20 meters in height, while some dust particles (diameter 0.05-0.005 millimeter) can rise to altitudes of 1.5 kilometers; in fact clay particles (diameter less than 0.005 mm) can fly even higher.

Since forests cannot completely block dust from floating, building shelterbelts alone will not do. Sandfixation strategies, such as planting sod and improving the roughness of sandy areas to reduce dust from flying during strong winds, are needed.

A combination of trees, shrubs, semi-shrubs and herbs along with facilities such as nylon mesh sand barriers, simulated plant sand barriers, mesh bag sand barriers and chemical sand fixing agents are needed to improve the surface tension of sandy areas. But it takes decades of efforts and patience to achieve significant results.

It should also be noted that 70 percent of the land in Mongolia is facing desertification, becoming the source of sand and dust that makes its way to China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and even the United States. This means dust treatment requires the efforts of multiple countries and international cooperation.

Given that restoring Mongolia's ecological balance and preventing its land desertification are important ways to reduce sand storms and dusty weather, China might invest in and assist Mongolia through the Belt and Road Initiative, to restore its ecological balance and reduce the source of dust.

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