China says will take 300 years to turn back deserts

BEIJING (Reuters) - At the current rate of progress it will take 300 years to turn back China’s advancing deserts, a senior official said on Tuesday, bemoaning the low level of investment in fighting a serious environmental problem.

Over a quarter of China’s land area is covered by desert, or land which is turning into desert in which soil loses its fertility, putting crops and water supplies at risk for the world’s second-largest economy.

“The area of land being desertified is enormous, and prevention work most hard,” Liu Tuo, head of China’s anti-desertification efforts, told a news conference.

“There is about 1.73 million square km of desertified land in China, and about 530,000 square km of that can be treated. At our present rate of treating 1,717 square km a year, I’ve just calculated we’ll need 300 years,” he added.

“Investment is seriously insufficient, with a huge gap existing for our needs at present,” Liu said.

In some parts of China, which he did not name, regional governments were not taking the problem seriously enough.

“They say it is important, but their actions show that’s not the case,” Liu said.

Climate change could exacerbate China’s desertification problem, he added.

“Climate change could cause extreme weather, such as drought, which will have a very serious impact upon desertification.”

Still, Zhu Lieke, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration, claimed a measure of success for managing to reduce overall the area of desertified land in the past five years, though by less than half a percentage point.

“Generally speaking we have bought the situation under initial control,” Zhu said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard