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
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 ...