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Date: Wed, 19 Aug 98 17:48:25 CDT
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Article: 41473
To: undisclosed-recipients:;@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Message-ID: <bulk.27188.19980820181708@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

China moves to curb deforestation

Reuters, [19 August 1998]

BEIJING - China's cabinet has issued a circular calling for greater protection of its forests after environmentalists linked deforestation to the country's devastating floods this summer, state media said on Friday.

The State Council issued an emergency circular recently calling for greater protection of forest resources and forbidding the opening up of new lands at the expense of forests, the official Xinhua news agency and newspapers said.

The amount of forest resources would be increased, they said, adding that all forest land used by construction projects was to be frozen for one year effective immediately.

Occupation of forest land needed the direct approval of the cabinet, the circular said.

China's forest resources are rapidly dwindling due to over-exploitation of land resources in some forest regions, it said, adding that the situation would worsen if this trend was not reversed, leading to a decline of basic living conditions in these areas.

The protection and cultivation of forests is vital to ecological and environmental protection, and economic growth should not be achieved at their expense, it said.

Efforts should be made to ferret out all activities involving the destruction of forest resources, and governments at all levels should ensure that some occupied land revert to forests by the end of 2000, the circular said.

Crimes involving the destruction of forest resources should be severely punished, the circular said.

Deforestation has been blamed on China's devastating floods this summer which has killed more than 2,000 people.

There is a human hand in this year's floods in the form of deforestation and intensive land development, wrote Lester Brown and Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC.

In an essay made public on Friday, the pair briefly chronicled how rocketing demand for farmland and housing in the aftermath of a Chinese population boom led to the disappearance of 85 percent of trees in the Yangtze river basin.

The forests that once absorbed and held huge quantities of monsoon rainfall, which could then percolate slowly into the ground, are now largely gone. The result is much greater runoff into the river, they said.

The effects of environmental abuse and ill-advised government policies have been largely ignored by the Chinese press. The government-dominated media have chosen instead to lay blame on natural phenomena, such as La Nina.

La Nina is the monicker assigned to a spell of unusually cold surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina generally follows occurences of the opposite phenomenon, known as El Nino.

Brown and Halweil were quick to note in their article that the nature and local human activity were not the only factors which could be blamed for this summer's floods, pointing to so-called greenhouse gases emmissions.

At the global level, the human influence on the floods is less direct but no less real. The global temperature during the first seven months of this year was the highest of any comparable period on record, they said, while admitting no conclusive connection could be drawn between the floods and temperature.

Higher temeratures mean more evaporation, more intense storms, and more rapid snow melt, they said.

We can expect even worse floods in the years ahead.