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Taxpayer money squandered on 'forest cities'

2012-06-18 12:54     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

( – Many Chinese cities are eager to be named "forest cities," but their sloganeering, money-wasting and ignorance of environmental health have drawn much public disapproval, notes the Southern Metropolis Weekly.

Chongqing has achieved widespread afforestation and boosted forestry-related income since 2008. Earlier this year, it was reported that the city would hold the 9th China Urban Forest Forum in April, where the title of "National Forest City" would be officially awarded.

That forum has been postponed indefinitely, a Chongqing official said last week.

In March this year, the new mayor of Qingdao pushed forward a 4-billion-yuan tree-planting campaign toward becoming a national forest city by 2014.

Both city governments have been heavily criticized for their efforts. Experts have pointed out that such reforestation plans run contrary to the spirit of science, and can also have unpopular impacts that may enrage local residents.

Dubious title

In 2004, China's National Afforestation Committee and the State Forestry Administration launched a program to select a qualified "National Forest City" every year. By June 2011, 31 Chinese cities had been awarded the title.

Yet some have complained that the title is too similar to the one of "National Garden City" created by the same two authorities in 1992. Furthermore, the selection of forest cities has not even been approved by the State Council, says the Southern Metropolis Weekly.

In 2011, an official revealed that the State Council had taken measures to clamp down on rampant evaluation and awarding activities across China. He said the government uncovered a total of 148,405 such programs between 2006 and 2009, and eliminated 97.16 percent of them.

Li Dihua, deputy dean of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University, said the selection of national forest cities and national garden cities is absurd, and shows no respect for China's geographical environment.

Li said China's land resources are limited, and it is a colossal waste to transform farmland and wetlands into greenbelts and forests, because it will damage the ecological balance. Moreover, there are differences in geographical conditions and climates across the country, but the standards for national garden cities or forest cities impose uniformity in an unscientific way, he added.

Li recalled a trip to a city in western China where annual rainfall is only 159 millimeters. He said the city has already been affected by desertification, and must draw water from underground lakes located beneath desert areas 90 kilometers away. Despite that, one third of the city's water consumption has been used to achieve a green coverage rate of 10 percent, he sighed.

Still sought after

Although the title of national forest city is widely criticized as being costly and wasteful, many Chinese cities continue to doggedly pursue it.

In 2010, the Chongqing municipal government invested over 100 million yuan (US$15.7 million) to remove fig trees and replace them with large gingko trees brought in from other provinces, all in an effort to reach the standard of a national forest city, reports the Southern Metropolis Weekly.

The government invested huge sums to beautify the city, but the decision backfired when less than half of the gingkos and other trees survived. Many had to be replaced several times.

That same year, the city government of Hanhou, Shaanxi Province, also removed old sequoia trees and replaced them with larger gingko trees, but many of them also died.

In March this year, Qingdao decided to squander 4 billion yuan (US$634 million) on aggressive tree planting, a task carried out for the purpose of winning a "greener" city image during the 2014 International Horticultural Exposition.

All of these actions were done without meticulous research and often wasted public resources without informing taxpayers, comments the Southern Metropolis Weekly.

Chen Junyu, a senior academician, said he had participated in a project with the Beijing Botanical Garden to bring in larch trees, but the trees would not grow well in the soil and remained small in size. The trees did not even survive the first summer, Chen said.

Many officials greedy for honorary titles are willing flout nature and ignore what is more important for cities. With such corrupt attitudes, it should come as no surprise that desert areas in Xinjiang may also win the right to be called national forest cities.


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