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Man-made oasis: Xinjiang's "green wall" fights expanding desert
2018-10-25 source:Xinhua
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Aerial photo taken on Sept. 20, 2018 shows a car running in an area of Kekeya's greening project in Aksu, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)

Over 30 years ago, a war against desertification was waged silently in Kekeya, a little-known place in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. But the influence was earth-shattering. Locals won the battle and passed on the spirit of fighting mother nature's ills to those who will continue striving for a better environment.

Located at the northwestern edge of the Taklimakan, the largest desert in China, Kekeya was once notorious for its erratic weather and constant sand storms.

Taklimakan Desert covers 337,000 square kilometers, slightly smaller than the size of Germany. It is also the world's second-largest shifting sand desert.

An afforestation project to prevent the desert from expanding and to reduce the impacts of sand and dust storms on nearby residents was launched in Kekeya in 1986 and completed in 2015.

Over the past 30 years, a great "green wall" stretching around 77,000 hectares has been gradually erected between the desert and towns.

The remarkable achievement of Kekeya, located in the Aksu Prefecture, has inspired more people to participate in ecological campaigns, which are already underway and expected to transform the desert into an oasis.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

People in Kekeya suffered from droughts for hundreds of years.

Historical records show that, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a local official hired people to drill wells and explore underground water in Kekeya. But authorities abandoned such attempts, as the total cost was likely to be extremely high.

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, locals made a second attempt, digging several wells in Kekeya, but no water came out. In the 1960s, a project to channel water from a river in the city of Aksu was also forsaken.

"Planting trees in Kekeya is no different from farming fish in sand," said Eli Sulayman, 77, a retired forester in Kekeya.

Eli said Kekeya suffered around 100 days of sand and dust storms every year. "In spring and winter, fierce winds blew up and sand engulfed the cities. Residents had to turn on the lights even during the daytime."

"Either we endured or we escaped," said Eli.