Desertification in China

Desertification is one of the most important environmental challenges facing the world today, however it is arguably the most under-reported. Desertification is the gradual transformation of arable and habitable land into desert, usually caused by climate change and/or the improper use of land. Each year, desertification and drought account for US$42 billion loss in food productivity worldwide.

In China, nearly 20% of land area is desert. As a result of a combination of poor farming practices, drought and increased demand for groundwater, desertification has become arguably China's most important environmental challenge. As the effects of increasing desertification appear, farmers are forced to abandon their land, levels of rural poverty rise and the intensity of sandstorms, which batter northern and western China each year, continue to intensify.

By traveling on China's 'desertification train' on the K117-T69-K886 route that dissects China's major northern deserts (The Gobi, Taklamakan and Badain Jaran) from Beijing, on the east coast of China, to Kashgar, on the western borders, photojournalist Sean Gallagher reports on the various implications of desertification on people's lives across the breadth of China.

China's Growing Sands

Desertification in northern and western China is increasing year on year, fueled by a combination of nationwide drought, improper use of land and global climate change.

Desertification: On the Trail of Abandoned Cities

There are some places in the world where you don't want to get a flat tire: a 2 1/2-hour drive on dirt tracks into the middle of the desert, with no cell phone coverage and no hint of civilization, is one of them. So when we got our second flat tire, we started to worry a little. We were suddenly a wheel short and a long way from help.

Science vs. The Desert

Lying in the second lowest depression in the world, at 154 metres below sea level, the Turpan desert botanical garden is China's largest and is at the centre of the race to research and study the effects of desertification and how it can be stopped. By growing and cultivating sand-fixing plants, the researchers of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences are attempting to find ways in which productivity can be restored to arid land and investigate the success of plants to stop moving deserts in their tracks.

The Desertification Train

Winding its way through China's northern provinces of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu and Xinjiang the 'desertification train' travels 4000 kilometers from Beijing in the east of the country to the western borders with countries such as Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Passengers can witness first hand the severity of desertification in China, just by looking out of their carriage window.