Local government fells UN reforestation project, says report

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am

Efforts by a United Nations-sponsored reforestation project in the mainland's north have gone down the drain, with a commercial deal signed by the local government stripping the land bare.

About 27 hectares of steep, flood-prone reforested land in Pingshan county of Hebei's capital, Shijiazhuang , have been completely deforested, putting the lives and property of villagers at the bottom of the hill at risk of mudslides, the China News Service reported yesterday.

The barren area is in one of 24 spots in the county identified as most vulnerable and which benefited from a five-year reforestation project initiated by the UN World Food Programme in 1986. The agency cannot be reached for comment.

According to Luo Jiahui villagers, construction vehicles began appearing in January. The villagers were not aware of the extent of the destruction until June, when heavy rain filled a 25-metre-deep gully on the mountain and flushed a vast amount of loose rock and sand into villagers' homes.

The villagers built dykes to protect themselves but even so, when it rains they still have to move out of their homes or risk being inundated with debris.

The village party secretary and village chief confirmed the area lay within the World Food project and said it would be used to grow fruit trees under a 50-year contract signed with a developer. They refused to provide further details and denied villagers were in danger, according to the report.

Officials at the higher town level said the project had not received administrative approval and the forestry department had already fined the developer for developing the land.

They also denied the villagers had been put in danger but admitted negotiations on property insurance were continuing, the report said.