China's Saihanba afforestation community wins UNEA award
China's Saihanba afforestation community on Tuesday scooped a prestigious United Nations (UN) Environmental Award for its outstanding contribution to restoration of degraded landscapes, amid the national efforts to advance ecological civilisation.
The announcement about the Saihanba afforestation community emerging among top winners of the annual UN Champions of the Earth Award, the highest environmental honor of the UN, was made in Nairobi, Kenya during the ongoing third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), hailed the Saihanba community for pioneering, innovative but cost-effective, grassroots-led initiatives to reclaim degraded landscapes.
He said the Saihanba afforestation community has transformed degraded land into lush green paradise, part of a new Great Wall of vegetation that will play a part in helping protect millions from air pollution and preserving precious water supplies.
He added that the Chinese conservation group has inspired the global community to start a new conversation on effective measures to adopt in order to restore the health of vital ecosystems.
The Chinese people's work is proof that environmental degradation can be reversed, which is an investment worth making, Solheim remarked, adding that grassroots initiatives have often proved to have profound impact on environmental conservation globally. Chen Yanxian, a representative for the Saihanba afforestation community, received the award at a ceremony.
In her speech, Chen said for half a century, three generations of people followed one mission, which is "to plant trees with our hearts and souls and turn the barren hills into green mountains." She said the story of Saihanba serves as an example in President Xi Jinping's campaign to build a more beautiful China.
Saihanba which covers about 93 000 hectares in north China's Hebei Province almost became a waste land in the 1950s due to excessive logging which made it possible for wind to blow sand into Beijing and adjacent regions. Hundreds of foresters in 1962 embarked on tree planting in Saihanba given the heavy price they were paying due to rapid desertification.
Three generation of foresters from Saihanba have managed to increase the forest cover from 11.4% to 80% while the reclaimed landscape currently supplies some 137 million cubic meters of clean water to Beijing annually. Meanwhile, the restored forest has spurred economic growth with green sectors, generating an estimated $15.1 million in 2016.
Tourism has also developed in the area over the past years, and a wetland park of approximately one million square meters has been established. The park is paved with 5 000 metres of boardwalks and has eight main attractions. Every year, over 500 000 tourists visit Saihanba, according to reports.
Liu Haiying, head of the Saihanba afforestation community said that restoring degraded forests has capacity to unleash huge ecological, social and monetary benefits. She said as long as the efforts are continued to promote ecological civilization, generation after generation, China can create more green miracles like Saihanba and achieve harmony between humans and nature.
In total, China bagged three of the six prizes presented to pioneers in environmental conservation during this year's Champions of the Earth Award.
In addition to Saihanba, which won in the category of "Inspiration and Action", Chinese bike-sharing company Mobike, which has revolutionized urban mobility, and the Elion Resources Group, which is credited with transforming deserts into pristine oasis, also reaped the coveted environmental award. They were awarded in the categories of "Entrepreneurial Vision" and "Lifetime Achievement Award" respectively.