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China: The gathering sandstorm: Encroaching desert, missing water

China is losing a million acres a year to desertification. In Dunhuang, a former Silk Road oasis in the Gobi, the resulting water shortage has become critical.

Source:  Copyright 2007, Independent (UK)
Date:  November 9, 2007
Byline:  Clifford Coonan
Original URL: Status ONLINE

Jiang Zhenzhong is watching, helpless, as his farm at the edge of the Gobi desert runs out of water. His cotton fields are close to the dwindling Crescent Moon lake in north-eastern China. The lake is famous throughout China, attracting a million visitors a year, but now it looks more like a village pond, encircled by railings and fading fast as the desert sucks up more and more water. In the 1960s, the lake used to be 10 metres deep – now it is barely one metre.

Jiang's farm is in Mingshan village, at the foothills of 500-metre sand dunes near Dunhuang, a key staging point on the ancient Silk Road that linked East and West for hundreds of years. The desert threatens to engulf the village, and the ancient town itself, which has seen its population soar from less than 40,000 people in the 1950s to nearly 200,000 today.

The disappearing lake at this point of the Silk Road is the most powerful symbol of an emerging water crisis. The ...

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