Source: Xinhua | 2013-1-23 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
Jiukao (center) has breakfast with his family in their new home in the resettlement center in Gannan's Maqu County. The family is among thousands of nomads relocated away from the Yellow River's headwaters area to protect the environment.
Photo by Xinhua
MORE than 737,000 nomadic herders have been resettled away from the headwaters region of the Yellow River over the past five years in an effort to protect China's "mother river" and stop over-grazing and erosion.
According to recently released figures, the nomads are all ethnic Tibetans and have been resettled, along with their animals, in new communities in the southern tip of Gansu Province in northwest China. The move is aimed at protecting prairie and wetlands.
"We want to give the grassland a break," says Wang Hongwei, a senior development planning official of in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gannan.
Around a million head of cattle were also driven from more than 774,600 hectares of grassland.
The counties of Maqu and Luqu in Gannan are primarily grassland and wetlands created by melt-water from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This relative trickle develops into the headwaters of the Yellow River that runs 5,464 km across China from west to east, finally emptying into the Pacific.
Over the years, the wetlands have shrunk and desert has encroached on the prairie, raising fears that the Yellow River that has sustained Chinese civilization for thousands of years might dry up some day.
Climate change, over-grazing and burrowing by an exploding population of prairie dogs are to blame, experts say.
Land erosion has affected more than 90 percent of Maqu's more than 2 million acres of grassland, according the animal husbandry and veterinary bureau.
The nomad settlement is part of a US$700 million package of measures to protect the ecology of the headwaters region.
The scheme was launched in 2007.
Harmony between man and nature is a major theme in Chinese philosophy but it has been eroded by the country's robust economic expansion since the late 1970s.
Factories have sprung up, the air has been polluted, and rivers and underground water have been drained for factories.
Authorities are working to reverse the trend. At the recent national congress, the Communist Party of China stated "ecological progress" a major development priority.
China is faced with "increasing resource constraints, severe environmental pollution and a deteriorating ecosystem," former Party General Secretary Hu Jintao told the congress.
Controlling or banning grazing is an important measure to preserve grasslands. Herding was banned in areas of deteriorating ecology around the nation last year. Herders were compensated by the state.
For the nomads in Gansu, settlement also means improved living conditions.
"Settled nomads have much easier access to public services like education, medical care, cultural facilities and daily utilities," says Wang, the official from Gannan Tibetan Prefecture.
In Luqu County, each more than 2,300 relocated nomad households has access to water and electricity and nearby roads, a school, a clinic and a community recreation center.
Gongpo, who uses only one name like many Tibetans, lived as a nomad for more than six decades.
Today, at age 72, he is especially impressed by the neighborhood clinic.
"Now I can just walk five minutes from home to ask for medicine," he says. "We used to spend half a day on horseback to do that."
Wang says the government will resettle the prefecture's remaining 19,000 nomads in the next few years.