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Lake Aibi shrinks as desertification rises

BEIJING, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- China faces a losing battle to restore Lake Aibi's ecosystem due to worsening desertification in the region of the salt lake, officials say.

The large lake in northwestern China's Gobi region sits in an internally draining, salt-rich basin near the border of Xinjiang-Uighur province and Kazakhstan. It has been shrinking at more than 15 square miles a year because of encroaching desert.

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Officials said about 580 square miles of the lake have dried up and its size has been reduced to less than 193 square miles, the Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday. Excessive land reclamation and flood irrigation are only adding to the problem.

The dry earth left on the lake bed is frequently whipped up into sandstorms that plague China's northern regions every year, Xinhua reported.

The problem has not been solved despite efforts to restore the area's ecosystem in the past decade, said Gao Xiang, head of the Lake Aibi wetland reserve administration. The national wetland nature reserve covers an area of 1,030 square miles.

Gao said the dried-up lake bed will become part of Mutetar Desert in four years without effective measures.

"In the case of climate change, serious natural disasters will be inevitable in the area," Gao warned.

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The report said about 385 species of wildlife used to live in and around the body of water, but as of now only 322 species of plants and 111 species of birds can still be found there.

Officials said the growing desertification and the sandstorm problem have disrupted local people's lives and their local agriculture and industry. Experts have calculated about 5.5 million tons of sand and salt are blown away each year, reaching as far as Beijing. Massive power outages occur every year as salt dust drops on transmission lines. Cattle deaths have tripled in the region in recent years.

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