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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China's Grasslands Turning to Desert

BAOLIGEN, China -- The steppes of Inner Mongolia are arid even at the best of times, but as world temperatures rise, low rainfall is turning these grasslands into sand.

"The wild grass reached up to my knees in the past," said Chaogula, a 40-year-old herdsman as he pointed to barren fields in this remote part of China near the Mongolian border.

"But there's very little grass now. It hasn't rained here in six years and we have to buy fertilizers and feed for our livestock. We never needed these before," he said.

Deserts make up about 27.5 percent of China's total land area today compared with about 17.6 percent in 1994, experts say.

Many homes in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Qinghai and Gansu have been swallowed up by sand. In the spring, dust storms dump sand not only on Beijing but also send dust particles as far away as the United States.

Doctors are seeing the health effects as fine dust inhaled during increasingly frequent dust storms causes respiratory problems, especially for children and the elderly.

"Eye infections are getting more serious and common because of the sandstorms," said Hai Mei, chief of the Xilinhot City Peoples' Hospital in Inner Mongolia.

China's "Green Great Wall," a 700-kilometer barrier of shrubs and trees planted to hold back the advancing desert, has slowed down the desertification but hasn't stopped it completely.

Environmentalists say the government needs to prevent overexploitation of the land, which is another cause of the expanding deserts.

"The desert is becoming bigger and sandstorms very severe. It was really bad in the last two years, there was not enough grass for the animals. There is just no rain," herder Xintouya said.