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The Great Wall? No, it’s the Green Wall!

In ancient times, the Chinese empire had to build the Great Wall to protect the country from the invasions of the Mongols coming from the north. Nowadays the threat still comes from the same northern border, but the enemy has changed: now China has to fight against desertification.

What is the situation?

The province of Inner Mongolia is now facing a serious problem, with the desert moving towards south at the speed of 20 metres per year (three times faster than last century's average). Beijing itself is threatened by this process, and has been suffering from sandstorms more and more frequently in recent years. The best solution to this problem may be also the most natural one: as the problem is a lack of vegetation, then we'll just plant trees back in this area, which was once a lush forest. This afforestation would prevent the desert from advancing further, would help fight against global warming, and would also improve the air quality in a large region in China. The Chinese Government recently decided to take action and a few weeks ago allocated € 7 billions for the reforestation programme.


NGOs are active on the ground

Although the interest of the Government is quite recent, some NGOs have been raising awareness throughout Chinese society in the last decade. Roots & Shoots is one of them; it was created in 1991 in Tanzania as a program focused on environmental and humanitarian education. R&S arrived in Shanghai in 1999, settling in China as a volunteer organization and was later recognized as a Non-Profit Organization by the City Government. This NGO operates in 3 main areas: protection of the environment, respect for animals and care for the local community. To this day, more than 170 schools host active Roots & Shoots groups in Shanghai alone.

Information is on the move

On Saturday 12th March, a special event took place in Shanghai: the Tree Planting Day, connected with the Million Tree Project. Young people living in Shanghai gathered in the city centre for the introduction and some educational games, and then headed to the south of the city to reach Hai Wan National Forest Park. There, in small groups they planted dozens of trees in this beautiful forest by the Chinese Sea. This was actually just a small awareness-raising initiative, compared to the Million Tree Project. The MTP is a two-sided campaign: on the one hand, Roots & Shoots spreads information about how individuals and businesses can reduce their environmental impact; on the other hand, it encourages them to offset their carbon footprint or even do something directly positive for the environment by participating directly in tree-planting missions.

A sustainable solution

The target of the Million Tree Project in China is the area around Kulun Qi, in Inner Mongolia, which is going through a fast process of desertification due to the greenhouse effect and the overexploitation of the land. Many people have been forced to move somewhere else, because of massive sandstorms in the springtime. As R&S usually takes into high consideration the value of communities, the locals in Kulun Qi can benefit from the project not only on the environmental level, but also from the human point of view. The population is deeply involved in the project, and the MTP also includes capacity building activities aimed at maintaining the forest in good shape and monitoring the trees once they're planted. Together, human empowerment and afforestation can bring new life into this region, which has been gradually invaded by desert in the last decades.


Some important facts
Each tree planted in Inner Mongolia through the Million Tree Project clears the air of 250 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the course of its life. It only costs 25 RMB (€ 2.75) to plant and sustain one tree.
The MTP goal is to plant one million trees by 2014. As of March 2011, more than 400,000 trees have been planted and have demonstrated an impressive survival rate of over 91%. The next tree-planting trip to Inner Mongolia is scheduled for April, 2011.

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Francesco Ballone - Previous EVS volunteer in YEE