Back to Index

The desertification of China

Here is an extract from an Agence France-Presse report on the desertification of China, sent by Paul Simon:

"China has raised the environmental alarm bell after a survey found over a quarter of its land has become desert, with much of the damage caused by human activity. Desertification has affected 28 per cent of China's land mass, with 18 per cent of the country turning to waste through the effects of overgrazing, deforestation and other ravages, the China Daily said, citing a State Forestry Administration survey. The report followed another survey last week which showed soil erosion affected 37 per cent of China's land".

Paul comments ruefully: "I recall getting some of the 25% in my eye in Changchun last April...Scratched my cornea". It is amazing that in the US, while there is so much talk about protecting the environment, desertification is seldom mentioned. Does it not exist in the US, once ravaged by the Dust Bowl? It is a worldwide problem. North Africa was the granary of ancient Rome, but now it is largely desert. I have not seen recently reports on attempts to reclaim the Sahara. One danger is that population moves out of areas like the Dust Bowl, so that the pressure of the Chinese population moving to the coastal area and thence abroad could have important repercussions. What about the northeast of Brazil, the interior of which is largely desert? I remember flying over it decades in a DC3. I also once crossed Patagonia by train. The sand creeping somehow into the pullman was intolerable. We masked our faces with our handkerchiefs so as to keep it from our nostrils and mouths. The issue of desertification should fall within the domain of geography, which is now neglected in our elite universities. The National Geographic Atlas has a map showing "World Land" and listing "vegetative cover", but I see nothing specifically on desertification. What about the Mojave Desert? Northern Mexico? Does the National Geographic magazine have any articles on desertification?

Ronald Hilton - 1/30/02