Saihanba: Proof our planet can be healed By Greg Fountain
Before we visited the "Green Lung of North China" earlier this summer, I'd never heard of Saihanba.
A vast forest almost three times the size of Malta, this seemingly boundless ocean of green sits at the border of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and northernmost Hebei province.
What makes Saihanba special is the way it was created－the land on which the forest now thrives was effectively reclaimed from the desert, starting 55 years ago.
Back then, the arid landscape acted as a funnel, channeling sandstorms that had emanated in Inner Mongolia all the way to Beijing and beyond. With the capital under threat of burial from the fast encroaching desert, it was decided that something had to be done.
In centuries past, Saihanba had been a royal hunting ground, prized for its extensive grassland and tree cover. But by the mid-19th century, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was already in decline and Saihanba, which translates as "beautiful highland", became anything but.
Abandoned by the aristocracy, opportunistic loggers moved in to clear away the trees. It would take almost 100 years for the landscape to be reborn.
Believed to be one of the world's largest man-made forests, Saihanba today is a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance.
Official records show that in 1962－when the area was designated a national forest－the average age of its 369 inhabitants was just 24. About one-third of these were graduates, fresh from technical schools and colleges, bent on greening the barren wasteland once more.
Bitter winters, the harsh natural environment and sheer physical exertion made it a challenge.
Fewer than half of Saihanba's occupants from the 1960s survive to this day. Their average lifespan: an abnormally short 55 years.
Progress on the Saihanba project could be painfully slow, as severe frosts, long droughts and plagues of insects wreaked havoc with the fledgling forest at various times over the decades. But the workers persisted and adapted their techniques until, eventually, they had brought a halt to the desert's advance.
Those brave men and women gave everything, including their lives, to tame a wild frontier. But it's telling that their actions were only necessitated by those who had come before, who had unknowingly incurred nature's wrath in the first place.
We all have a responsibility, as caretakers of this planet we call home, to ensure its survival for future generations.
Saihanba shows that the world we share can heal, if we allow it, no matter the damage wrought.
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