NAIROBI, The Saihanba afforestation community in northern China has scooped a prestigious United Nations environment award for its outstanding contribution to restoration of degraded landscapes amidst the national efforts to advance ecological civilization.

The announcement about the Saihanba afforestation community emerging among top winners of the annual UN Champions of the Earth Award was made in Nairobi this week during the ongoing third edition of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3).

Erik Solheim, the 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.

“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,” Solheim remarked.

He added that the Chinese conservation group had inspired the global community to start a new conversation on effective measures to adopt in order to restore the health of vital ecosystems.

“The work is proof that environmental degradation can be reversed, and that this is an investment worth making,” Solheim remarked, adding that grassroots initiatives have often proved to have profound impact on environmental conservation globally.

The Saihanba region, which covers about 93,000 hectares in northern China’s Hebei Province, almost became a wasteland in the 1950s because of rampant felling of trees which made it possible for winds 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 per cent to 80 per cent while the reclaimed landscape currently supplies some 137 million cubic metres of clean water to Beijing.

At the same time, the restored forest has stimulated growth of green sectors of the economy which generated an estimated 15.1 million US dollars in 2016.