ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une grande muraille verte contre le dragon jaune
by Jérôme Skalski
Translated Friday 10 April 2015, by
A vast green wall, an ambitious project comparable to the Great Wall or the Grand Canal linking Hangzhou to Peking.
With its programme to reforest the arid zones of the North, China has embarked on its
greatest environmental project. A green wall is in the process of being constructed ;
its aim, to plant 35,6 million hectares of trees over an area of 4 500 kilometers,
stretching from east to west. Following decades of diminishing forests, a process
which has accelerated throughout the twentieth century, due to the over-exploitation
of Manchourie’s woodlands during Japanese occupation and the post war period,
along with the demographic growth which it has had to confront. Fifty years after the
launch of its programme ’the forestry front’, China has committed itself to a whirlwind
of reforestation. With an increase of 2,5 million hectares of woodland between 1990
and 2010 according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, China has pushed
itself to the top of the list of nations in terms of the number of forests planted, and
with a total of 195,5 million hectares, it ranks 5th place, after Russia, Brazil, Canada
and the US for its forested areas.
Amongst the voluntary policies put in place by the authorities of the People’s Republic
of China (PRC) to reverse the process of deforestation in the north of the country, the
launch of the Great Green Wall project aims to slow down the infringement of the
Gobi desert to the south and the east, an arid zone with a surface area equivalent to
half that of the Arabian desert. Since 1978, the year the project to create
protective strips of forests was launched, efforts have focussed on the yellow dragon ;
a seasonal dust storm, blowing up from the Taklamakan and crossing the Gansu, the
Qinghai and the Mongolian interior, before making itself felt, like a far-eastern
Sirocco, as far away as Korea and Japan.
A vast project, comparable to the Great Wall or the Grand Canal which links
Hangzhou to Peking. By 2074, it is expected that the 4,500km long barrier will
extend from Xinjiang in the east to Heilongjiang in the west ; a total of 100 000
billion trees, half of which have already been planted. This represents a 15% increase
in woodland between now and 2050.
But can the Great Green Wall fulfill its promises ?
The stakes are high for China, which for a decade or so has had to deal with an
endemic drought made manifest by an increase in the frequency of the yellow dragon
sand storms, the brunt of which is bourne by Peking and Tianjin.
Numerous problems still need to be overcome, e.g.: an improved plantation system in the
light of applied environmental engineering. But what is certain is that similar
projects have been adopted in Africa with the launch of another green wall running
along the Sahel, modeled on China’s and constructed with the cooperation of
Chinese experts. However, the process of global warming confronted by the PRC is
the same throughout the Pacific. In Australia, 75% of the land is desert or semidesert
and for the past three years the country has suffered drought which has been
unprecedented in it intensity. For a decade California, the richest state in the world,
has been affected. More than 80% of its surface area has been affected by wind
erosion; the water tables, the rivers and the lakes are at their lowest level or have
completely disappeared. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land are lying fallow
and millions of people are subject to water rationing. Last year, a significant increase
in the number of forest fires was recorded, compared to previous year’s averages.
And the situation looks worse for the year ahead. Public action is at an all time low.
In Silicon Valley, the land of super-human dreams, laws dating back a hundred years
allow a thousand privileged few to benefit from more than half of the user rights of the rivers and streams, as well as being able to consume unlimited amounts of water. These include large businesses such as the Pacific Gas and Electric company, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and a few highly capitalized agricultural organisations, as well as a few individuals
The number and diversity of the ecosystems over the million hectares covered by the
Great Green Wall represent a vast laboratory in which ecological science will have an
unprecedented and challenging field study at its disposal. If China’s Great Green
Wall and its forestation programme are still in need of consolidation in order to fulfill
their promises, to parphrase Blaise Cendrar across the Atlantic, the Great Golden
Wall is keeping its own promises at all costs.