China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Inner Mongolia wants help in battling dust storms


BEIJING, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Inner Mongolia, source of a lot of the sand and dust that envelops large parts of China every spring, needs more help to fight the storms, a government official said on Wednesday. While lauding progress made to date, Mo Jiancheng, Inner Mongolia's propaganda chief, said more needed to be done to solve the problem, in which the northern region had invested more than 20 billion yuan ($2.51 billion) in the last six years.

"It needs to be said, even though I'm unwilling to, that we still need more attention to be paid, and need the state to keep providing proactive support," he told a news conference.

Sand storms earlier this year covered homes, streets and cars in brown dust and left the skies a murky yellow across much of northern China.

Desertification of the country's west and Mongolian steppes has made spring sand storms worse in recent years, reaching as far away as South Korea and Japan and turning rain and snow yellow.

Mo said part of the problem was that the government left dealing with the dust storm issue for too long.

"This is a historical problem," he said. "When I was growing up in Inner Mongolia there were more dust storms than now, but back then people thought nothing of them. They cared little for the quality of the weather and there were no pollution indices."

Inner Mongolia borders Mongolia and Russia to the north and occupies about 12 percent of China's land area.

Government officials have said they are sure control efforts mean dust storms will not bother the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but admit they will never totally find a solution as too much of the country -- about a third -- is covered by desert.

As well as planting trees in Inner Mongolia, the government has restricted grazing, the traditional livelihood of the some four million ethnic Mongolians who live in the region.

Exile groups accuse the government of using the environment as an excuse to further pressure the Mongolian community, who are now outnumbered by Han Chinese by about five to one in Inner Mongolia thanks to decades of internal migration.

"The forced eviction of ethnic Mongolians is really intended to complete the Chinese government's long-term goal of eliminating the ethnic Mongolian population and traditional culture," the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre says on its Web site (www.smhric.org).

Mo declined to answer questions about ethic tensions in Inner Mongolia when asked after the news conference, saying he "did not have time". ($1=7.981 Yuan)

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