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Jade rush sparks environmental havoc in NW China region
31/8/2006 15:01

Saimati Tulahon is just one of 200,000 jade hunters desperately searching the river bed of the Yurungkax River in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region but for the three months the treasure has proved elusive.
"Large jade stones are nowhere to find now, even if you dig 10 meters deep," said Tulahon, who, like all the others, has become addicted to the hunt.
The river produces the world's finest jade - Hotan Jade - and is renowned for its pure white nephrite, a variety of the semi-precious stone. But the assault on the river bed is taking its toll.
"The river bed, which is hundreds of millions of years old, is undergoing unprecedented depredation," said Wang Shiqi, an expert in gemstones at Beijing University.
Some 2,000 mechanical diggers are clawing at the river bed day and night along a 100 km-long river section, the upper stream of Yurungkax.
"If the mass hunting continues like this, the river's Hotan Jade resources will disappear in five to six years," said Professor Wang.
Xinjiang produces some 250-300 tons of Hotan Jade a year, 20 percent of which is pure white nephrite. A kilogram of white Hotan Jade can be sold for over 100,000 yuan (US$12,500).
Lured by the possibility of tasty profits and get-rich-quick tales, jade hunters from all over the country swarm around the river during summer before the river freezes over in autumn.
The water conservation authorities in Hotan Prefecture admitted that the rampant excavation has caused degradation of the river's biological system, resulting in serious soil erosion.
Xinhua reported in 2004 that jade hunters using heavy machineries wrecked ruins of an ancient civilization dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and the Tang dynasty (618-907), located at the western bank of the Yurungkax River.
So far, no measures have been put in place by the local authorities to curb the jade hunting fever in Xinjiang.