A recent official study has found that human activities such as farming, deforesting and mining, combined with population growth and global climate change, are wrecking the fragile ecosystem in the western region. The study, 'An Investigation of the Western Region's Ecological Situation', was carried out by the State Environmental Protection Agency, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and 12 provincial research centres. It urges immediate measures to protect the region's ecology, the China Youth Daily quoted the report as saying. Using various social, economic and scientific data up to 1999, the study assessed various environmental indicators such as soil erosion, desertification, salination and deforestation. It found that more than 104.3 million hectares in the region suffer from serious soil erosion. In some provinces, eroded land accounts for more than 50 per cent of total land area. The western provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Tibet and Xinjiang now have more than 162 million hectares of desert, while the regions of Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou have 7.2 million hectares of salinised land. Forests and grasslands have been destroyed as a result of their conversion into arable land. From 1986 to 1999, grasslands decreased 69.5 per cent, while forests decreased 22 per cent. The authors believe that the destruction has led to a cycle of ecological disasters such as increased soil erosion, plant diseases, rodent outbreaks, water table shrinkage and the alkalification of lake and river water. The report says that from the 1980s to the 1990s, natural disasters such as sand storms and floods doubled. Population growth and economic development have upset the region's ecological balance. The report notes environmentally destructive activities such as mining have more than doubled since 1986. More than 1.8 million hectares of land are used for mining in the provinces of Qinghai, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia alone. The report alludes to the Government's attempt to protect the region by raising environmental standards. But it says 'there is a huge gap between what can be realistically monitored and managed'. The report urges local authorities to take immediate measures such as promoting less environmentally destructive economic activities like small-scale farming and herding.