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Tibet's largest afforestation project protects "Roof of the World"
update:October 23,2023

This photo taken on May 13, 2023 shows the Potala Palace seen from the Nanshan Park in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

LHASA, Oct. 21 -- China's Tibet Autonomous Region is undertaking its largest afforestation project to green the mountainsides along the Lhasa River Valley, contributing to the ecological conservation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as the "Roof of the World."

The afforestation project in the northern and southern mountains of Lhasa, launched in 2021 and set to be completed by 2030, covers an area of 2.067 million mu (around 137,868 hectares). Upon completion, it will add 49.8 million metric tons of water storage, sequester 230,000 metric tons of carbon annually, and generate 190,000 metric tons of oxygen each year. These efforts will significantly improve the ecological environment around the regional capital city, Lhasa, making the city more livable.

Li Baoping, a senior official from the Lhasa Municipal Forestry and Grassland Bureau, said that 380,000 mu of afforestation have been completed and accepted since the project's launch, achieving 90 percent of the two-year target with a survival rate of 85 percent to 95 percent. The project, along with the "Two Rivers and Four Rivers" afforestation and greening initiative carried out in Tibet for many years, has yielded substantial ecological benefits, particularly in river basins that support over 80 percent of Tibet's population.

In Nanshan Park, or the southern mountain park, located beside the Lhasa River and south of the iconic Potala Palace, lush trees and murmuring streams now create a picturesque landscape. Local residents like Zhou Changying, 41, who has lived in Lhasa for two decades, have noticed the positive changes in the city's ecological environment. "I feel the air is more humid, and there is more natural greenery than before," she said. The park has become a popular destination for relaxation and sightseeing, offering residents like Zhou more options for leisure activities.

Tibet aims to transform Lhasa into an ecologically livable place with "green mountains surrounding the north and south, and green water encircling the ancient city." To achieve this, Tibet has undertaken long-term exploration and efforts.

Although Lhasa is geographically similar in latitude to Shanghai, its high altitude and arid and cool climate necessitate a focus on drought and frost resistance when selecting tree species. More than 30 tree species, including Chinese pine and oriental arborvitae, have been carefully chosen for their suitability for the high-altitude environment. In a multi-pronged afforestation and greening effort, different tree species are being planted at various elevations across the mountainous terrain. For example, areas below 3,900 meters above sea level are mainly afforested with tall trees, while areas between 3,900 and 4,000 meters above sea level are primarily covered with shrubs. Transporting soil and seedlings up the steep slopes presents a significant challenge, as it heavily relies on human labor and pack animals.

Li previously worked in Qushui County in the southwest of Lhasa and near the Yarlung Zangbo River and Lhasa River confluence. "Ten or so years ago, there were about 20 days each month from late December to mid-April when sandstorms occurred, but now it only happens a few times a year," he said. "The afforestation projects have significantly reduced sand and dust storms, stabilizing soil and improving the ecological environment."

In addition to transforming the ecological environment, the afforestation project in Lhasa is also a source of increased income for farmers and herders. Workers from various cities of Tibet, including Shannan and Shigatse, or regions outside of Tibet, earn wages by participating in the afforestation efforts. This project has enhanced the well-being and happiness of the local population while achieving a win-win situation in ecological, economic, and social benefits, according to officials.

China believes that "clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets, and so is snow-covered land." The country recognizes the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as a crucial ecological security barrier and, in 2023, specifically enacted a law on ecological conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This legislation requires relevant local governments to fulfill their responsibilities in ecological restoration and protection, ecological risk prevention and control, optimizing industrial structure and layout, and maintaining the ecological security of the plateau.

Jiumaocuo, a professor at the School of Economics and Management of Tibet University, said that the afforestation project in the northern and southern mountains of Lhasa is not easy, and the initiation of this project by the regional government demonstrates their determination to benefit future generations. "This long-term thinking and foresight exemplify China's concept of human rights development," she said.

by Xinhua writer Zhang Yunlong

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