- BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese officials have acknowledged that the worst
flooding in decades is largely man-made, the result of environmental degradation,
a United Nations expert said on Tuesday.
- "All of my partners here in China
underlined that these disastrous floods are to quite an intensive part
also home-made -- that they are man-made problems," said Klaus Topfer,
executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.
- Topfer said the floods were "a national
disaster of outstanding quantity and quality" and that they dominated
his two days of talks with cabinet officials in Beijing.
- The last nationwide tally issued nearly
three weeks ago said the worst floods in decades had killed more than 2,000
people and left millions homeless.
- State media have estimated the damage
will top $24 billion.
- The floods were an "eye-opener"
for China's leaders on the costs economic growth imposes on watershed land,
forest cover and soil quality, he told a news conference.
- Topfer said his meetings with senior
Chinese environmental and construction officials convinced him that Beijing
was aware that the worst flooding since 1954 could not be blamed solely
on heavy rains.
- "I was told more than once that
it was the highest flood but not the highest rainfall," he said.
- Beijing appeared keen to work with the
Nairobi-based UNEP on projects involving reforestation, wetland preservation,
human settlement issues and biodiversity, Topfer said. No specific projects
were agreed, he added.
- "All my Chinese partners were really
aware of the need to be very honest in the follow-up with regard to the
man-made consequences," he said.
- However, China's leaders also expressed
serious concern about job losses that would likely accompany changes in
land-use and forestry policy, Topfer said.
- "You have a lot of repercussions
to the job opportunities in agriculture -- this was mentioned more than
once," he said.
- Rising unemployment has been among China's
most difficult political and social issues in its transformation from a
planned economy to a market economy.
- China's state-run media have been increasingly
candid about environmental causes of the flood such as unchecked deforestation
and land reclamation.
- The central and local governments have
also cracked down on logging in watershed areas.
- Sichuan province officials said on Tuesday
they had banned logging in natural forests surrounding the upper reaches
of the Yangtze River effective September 1.
- Wei Shoucai, an official of the Sichuan
Provincial Forestry Department of Forestry told Reuters the central government
would invest $58.3 million per year for 13 years to help rebuild and protect
the forest in the Yangtze's upper reaches.
- "The province's 45,600 loggers and
sawmill workers will be re-employed to plant trees, to protect trees or
to work in the service sectors," he said.
- Sichuan government plans to plant 2.6
million acres of trees during 1999-2010, increasing the forest coverage
in the area to 23.9 percent from the current 19.l4 percent, he said.
- Beijing in 1995 launched a major reforestation
plan which aims to raise the percentage of its forested land to 20 percent
of the total, from the current 12-14 percent. The global average forest
cover is 31.3 percent.
- China's per capita average is only one-sixth
of the worldwide figure, according to forestry officials.