Natural wonders of Dunhuang under threat, Sepa warns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am

The ancient city of Dunhuang , in the northwestern province of Gansu , has stood for more than a millennium but its natural and historic wonders could disappear into the dust if authorities do not create a protection zone around the city, according to the mainland's environmental watchdog.

The State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) said on its website yesterday that officials were very concerned about the continuing deterioration of Dunhuang's environment, known for the natural beauty of its Ringing Sandhills and Moon Crescent Lake as well as the Mogao Grottoes, one of the world's greatest collections of Buddhist art.

The administration said its own investigation had revealed there was an urgent need to set up a protection zone around the city and mobilise transregional efforts to help the 1,000-year-old spectacles withstand human and natural elements.

Over the past few decades, Dunhuang's main rivers have been drying up, its lakes have been disappearing, its underground water supplies have shrunk and its oases have degenerated. The city had also been battered by stronger and more frequent winds and sandstorms, a Sepa official said.

Human activities have exacerbated the effects of nature's onslaught. The official said a heavy reliance on water-intensive agriculture, the pursuit of blind economic development at the cost of the environment and poor co-ordination of conservation efforts between the upper, middle and lower reaches of the main river regions were all to blame.

Dunhuang's administrative area covers 31,200 sq km and 95 per cent of the landscape is desert. Its population soared from fewer than 40,000 people in the 1950s to 188,000 today. Half of the population makes a living through agriculture and each year the city runs about 80 million cubic metres short of water. The Moon Crescent Lake, visited by 600,000 people a year, was 10 metres deep in the 1960s, but is now one metre deep.

Gansu environmental campaigner Zhang Zhengchun said the situation was a case of the environment paying the price for development. 'The damage from over-grazing, big population increases, a large number of tourists and insufficient environmental awareness become obvious,' Mr Zhang said.

Sepa said it would work to restore water flow to Dunhuang's main rivers, increase underground water replenishment, promote the planting of water-efficient plants and break through administrative blocks to smooth regional co-operation.