Despite the frequent sandstorms that have hit Beijing this spring, the Chinese government is still optimistic that the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will be "Green Olympics".
"China will intensify afforestation efforts in and around Beijing to create a better environment for the Olympic Games," said Liu Tuo, head of the desertification prevention and treatment department under the State Forestry Administration (SFA) on Thursday.
Liu said China launched an afforestation project in sand-prone areas in Hebei and Shanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 2001 to tackle sandstorms that had been plaguing Beijing's environment for years.
The coverage of forests and grass in these areas increased by an average 30 percent, said Liu.
The sand control project has improved the air quality in Beijing. The monitoring network of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau found a significant drop in major pollutants in the city in 2005, and more than 230 days of the year had good weather, compared with 100 days in 1998.
"It's high time for the forests and grasslands to play their roles in the 2008 Olympic Games. What's more, the Olympic Games is scheduled in August, when sandstorms seldom happen in Beijing," said Liu.
Ten sandstorms have stricken northern China since February this year and Beijing, which neighbors the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a major sand source in China, has suffered the most serious spring air pollution since 2002.
The strong sandstorm on Sunday alone brought more than 10 tons of sand and dust per square kilometer to the urban area of Beijing, according to the SFA's statistics.
Fifty to sixty percent of the sandstorms which hit Beijing originate from places outside Beijing and even outside China, and the major sand sources in Beijing are the sandy areas in its outskirts and the construction sites in the city, said Yang Weixi, chief engineer of Liu's department.
Higher temperatures and less rainfall in the arid parts of North China, together with frequent cold air flow from Siberia, were to blame for more severe sandstorms, according to Yang.
The drought sucks moisture from the soil and makes sand easier to be picked up by the wind, said Yang.
The Beijing municipal government has invested heavily to improve its environment since it won the right to host the 2008 Olympics. It spent 60 billion yuan (US$7.5 billion) on pollution control projects from 2000 to 2005.
"The sandy area in Beijing has thus dropped to 67,000 hectares from 200,000 hectares three years ago, effectively reducing the sand source inside Beijing," said Yang.
It is a long-term and tough task for desertification prevention and treatment in China as there are around 1.74 million square kilometers of desertified land in the country, accounting for 18 percent of China's land area, said Liu.
China would strengthen international cooperation in this field and take measures against overgrazing, over-logging and over collection of fire wood in the desertified area to honor the promise that all the country's desertified land can be repaired by 2050, said Liu.
(Xinhua News Agency April 21, 2006)