Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Environmentalist aims to fight desert's expansion

REFORESTATION Wender Yang and his team plan to plant trees to halt the expansion of the Taklamakan Desert, the source of dust storms affecting Asia


A Taiwanese environmentalist has organized a 15-member team to join his project to fight the expansion of the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang Province, China, through reforestation.

HIMA Foundation president Wender Yang (楊文德), the organizer of the New Loulan Project, and his team plan to leave for Xinjiang on April 25 to dig 15 wells in the Taklamakan Desert and plant more than 100 diversiform-leaved poplar trees, which are suitable for growth in arid regions.

The tree's roots can reach 10m down to the underground water table. They can help retain water and hold sand together.

Yang said it would cost NT$10,000 to grow a tree and NT$70,000 to dig a well in the desert. To support the work, he has raised funds from Tainan County Commissioner Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智), model Lin Chi-ling (林志玲), politicians, members of two local chapters of the Rotary Club and private enterprises.

Photographs of each tree and well will be posted on the foundation's Web site and identified by the names of individual donors. The public will be able to monitor the trees' growth on Google Earth, he said.

Yang said he hoped that more people would join the project to prevent the expansion of the Taklamakan Desert, which has been the source of dust storms affecting Asia.

Statistics show that the desert has been increasing by 168km² each year.

The Taklamakan Desert, the largest desert in China, swallowed Loulan (樓蘭) — a sprawling kingdom of 360,000km² on the Silk Road — in the 4th or 5th century.

It is believed that the ancient city of Loulan vanished during the Tang dynasty because of deforestation.

The Taklamakan Desert has been expanding and could soon merge with the Lop Desert to the west and become a much larger desert.

Yang gave up his well-paid job as an executive in the Asian operations of a listed Wall Street company in 2002 and launched the ambitious New Loulan Project to stop desertification in Xinjiang.

His HIMA Foundation has helped local Loulan descendants revegetate the desert around the historic region, hiring them to turn 5km² of desert into blooming flower beds of Apocynum venetum, also known as Indian hemp.

The plant is said to have medicinal value because its flowers and leaves can be made into tea that helps reduce blood pressure, while its fiber is good for making thread and weaving quality clothing.

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