Environmental Degradation in the Drylands of China: Potential Impacts and Possible Remediation Measures: A Review

Environmental Degradation in the Drylands of China

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2007

12 Pages, Grade: B



S. Usman1

1 Natural Resource Institute, Plant Health and Environmental Group, University of Greenwich, Chatham Maritime, Central Avenue Kent UK ME4 4TB


China is one of the most affected countries in the world in terms of extent and economic impact of environmental degradation. Desertification is the most severe environmental land degradation problems facing China, commonly caused by wind erosion. Wind erosion occurs widely in arid, semiarid and dry sub-humid zones of northern China, where precipitation is rare and vegetation is sparse. In China desertified land covers an area of 3.3 million km2, accounting for 34% of the total land territory or 79% of the entire arid lands in China. Annual direct economic loss caused by desertification is approximately $6,500,000,000. The best way to control this problem in China are: (1) rehabilitation of tree plantation for complete desertification control, (2) improvement of the economic development system through: (i) economize in the use of resources; (ii) moderate exploitation of the resources; and (iii) environmental protection; and (3) providing measures that should be suited to local conditions such as irrigation system and forage farming system.


Environmental problem such as land degradation inform of desertification is widely recognised as a serious problem and its environmental consequences will remain an important issue of global concern (Eswaran,et al.,2001; Lal,et al.,2003). It is a major threat to agricultural sustainability because it decreases actual and potential soil productivity (Lal, 1998). China is among the most affected countries in the world in term of the extent, intensity and economic impact of environmental degradation, particularly soil erosions and desertification (Zhanget al.,2006). However, an estimate suggests that over 40% of the land area in China (3-4 million km2) is adversely affected by wind and water erosion, loss of grazing, deforestation and salinization leading to land desertification (Berry, 2003). Thus, the problem can be considered as one of the most typical environmental degradation in China. By estimate (COC, 2006), the area affected by desertification is 4.38 million km2, which is equal to 45% of China’s land territory; far exceeds the nation’s total farmland. According to Shiet al.(2007), the problem is more severe in arid, semi-arid and dry grassland areas of China.

Research (Cai and Zhu, 2006) has shown that landform, soil type, vegetation, precipitation, water quality, land reclamation, cultivation, town development, population increase, life style, and land management policy all have close relations with land degradation in China. It has been recognized that soils have ability to restore their fertility after disturbance to a new state under a given set of favourable ecological and land use conditions (Blum, 1994; Zhao, 1995; Lal, 1997). Consequently, improving the productive capacity of degraded soils in such regions of China is particularly important to sustainable agricultural development in term of productivity of soil, food, livestock, water quality and other related land resources such as forestry (World Bank, 2001).

The aim of this paper was to briefly discuss some major environmental degradation in China, focussing primarily on potential impact and some possible remediation measures.

Geography of the study area

China is a large country and the world’s largest population of about 1.3 billion (20 percent of the Earth’s population) occupying most of East Asia (Berry, 2003). The geography of China is highly adverse, with hills, plains and rivers in the east; and deserts, high plateaus and mountain in the west (National Geographic Magazine, 2007). Climate also varied ranging from tropical in the south (Hainan) to sub-arctic in north-eastern (Mangolia) (National Geographic Magazine, 2007).

China has an area of about 9.5 million km2 (Robert, 1999) but only 1.3 million km2 is suitable for cultivation, (i.e. 14% of the total land area). For the remaining, 24% and 28% are grassland and woodland/forest respectively (Berry, 2003). The rest of the areas are unproductive or urban. These unproductive areas are mostly affected by land degradation, which has caused potential reduction of agricultural productivity in China as reported by Huang (2000).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1:Map of China (National Geographic Magazine, 2007)

Extent of land degradation in China

China is among the most affected countries in the world (Figure 2) in terms of the extent and economic impact of land degradation (Zhanget al.,2006). One of the consequences of this degradation appears to be in the increase of frequency of severe dust storms in Beijing, which increased from 0.5 in the 1950’s to 2.3 in the 1990’s (China daily, 2002; Berry, 2003). However in year 2002, the two storms (about 56,000 tons) of sand and dust were also deposited in the capital (China Daily, 2002).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2:ASSOD Soil Degradation Assessment: Physical Deterioration in China (Van Lynden, G.W.J. and Oldeman, L.R. 1997).

Most of the environmental problems in China as clearly mentioned could have been increased year after year possibly due to human induces activities of cutting down forest vegetation (Van Lynden and Oldeman, 1997). For example, Yunlong (1990) reported that more than 67 million hectares of forest in China were destroyed during 1949-81. In line with this report, the annual expansion of deforestation in China from 1980 to 1990 was also documented (Table 1).

Table1: Annual expansion of degraded land in arid and semiarid regions

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Source: ADB/GEF Project document (2002).

Generally, about six prominent land degradation processes were identified in China namely: desertification, salinization, loss of agricultural use, deforestation, grassland degradation and loss of wetland (Zhanget al.,2006). The most serious among the six prominent land degradation processes observed in China are desertification and erosion by wind (Zhu and Chen, 1994; Xu and Liou, 1997; Wang, 2000; Liet al., 2004). The extent of these two environmental problems in China has been accounted (Table 2).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Environmental Degradation in the Drylands of China: Potential Impacts and Possible Remediation Measures: A Review
Environmental Degradation in the Drylands of China
Natural Resources Institute - University of Greenwich at Medway
Soil and Environment
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ISBN (Book)
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environmental, degradation, drylands, china, potential, impacts, possible, remediation, measures, review, environmental, degradation, drylands, china
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PhD Student Suleiman Usman (Author), 2007, Environmental Degradation in the Drylands of China: Potential Impacts and Possible Remediation Measures: A Review, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175037


  • Suleiman Usman on 5/3/2014

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