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Foreigners Help Tame China's Sandstorms

Xinhua, 22 March 2002

BEIJING, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Irene Barn can see a lot of similarities between her native Australia and her present home in Inner Mongolia -- not least is that they are both troubled by sandstorms.

After the sandstorms which swept across north China over last week, Barn's work in Bayan Hot Town of the Alxa League, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has become the focus of attention.

In Inner Mongolia where sandstorms usually originate, Barn, an ecology expert, has developed an attachment to the local people and their efforts in fighting desertification.

I am quite adapted to the life here and there is not much difference from rural towns in Australia, said Barn in standard Mandarin.

Coming to China for a Sino-Australian ecological improvement program which started in June 2001, Barn and her colleagues have brought innovative new thinking to the treatment of the environment.

First is the mobilization of 58,000 herdsmen and farmers in the League whom Phil Waiiens, the project leader from Australia, called the immediate beneficiaries of a better environment.

Waiiens believes that only after these people feel willing to join the program and learn to tap local ecological resources scientifically can sustainable development be achieved.

Currently, he said, most ecological projects in developing counties including China are often implemented through administrative orders which have not given sufficient emphasis to the grassroots people or the immediate beneficiaries of those projects.

So in Alxa, a major job for these foreign ecological experts is to join with governmental agencies and scientific institutions to help villages tackle their environmental problems, reduce the pressure of human activity on nature and become richer.

Every village is treated as a community within which people are all encouraged to contribute and benefit, said Waiiens. `

The technique they've used to raise environmental awareness is really a combination of modernity and tradition.

As Buddhism has huge clout on people's daily lives, lamas from local temples are sent to the Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Xishuangbanna in Yunnan Province to learn how Buddism can influence people's environmental concepts.

After their return, these lamas become convincing advocates of environment-friendly farming and stockbreeding in Alxa.

Teaching children of the benefits of ecological protection is another stress in their mobilization work. A textbook on protecting Alxa's environment have been compiled and is taught in eight classes in four schools.

Students can go to the pasture to gain first-hand knowledge such as which plants can be used to test the health of meadows and how to protect them.

Sixty percent of the population in this agricultural and pastoral area are poorly-educated women, and many training courses are targeted at them.

The Sino-Australian program also includes many sub-projects like rebuilding three green belts in the Alxa League, slashing the silt content of the Yellow River, constructing water-efficient irrigation facilities and spreading the use of solar energy.

Financed by the five-year program with an investment of more than 100 million yuan (about 12.05 million U.S.dollars), some 100 households in the Alxa League have been equipped with solar power systems.

We operate according to the old saying, why give a man fish when you can teach him how to fish, said Irene Barn.

The team are conscious of the need to spend project money wisely. According to Barn, whenever a sub-project is approved, they will help villagers make a speedy appraisal of the use of natural resources through meetings, visits, data collections or workshops.

We have money indeed, but the final purpose is to assist them design good programs and fully use the money by themselves, Barn said.