Huge piles of garbage threaten to destroy the Hoh Xil nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in northwestern China, reported The Economic Observer on Sunday. The site, sometimes dubbed “The Third Pole,” is the highest and largest plateau in the world.
One particularly ravaged spot is a 656-foot long and 65-ft wide ‘garbage belt,’ filled with anything from plastic, cans, and paint buckets to sheep and yak carcasses, said the Beijing-based newspaper.
The garbage belt runs along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, a national road used heavily by tourists and long-distance truckers.
Hundreds of local herders were called in by officials to aid with the clean-up, but are struggling to finish the job due to the sheer amount of trash, reported the South China Morning Post.
A local herder who was enlisted to help, Tsering Kunbu, told the Post that only around 200 people live in the area near the garbage belt and that the waste there has accumulated for years because there are no landfill sites nearby.
He added that petrol stations, restaurants, and car repair shops in Hoh Xil are also plagued with immense amounts of litter.
Independent geologist and explorer Yang Yong told the Post that the garbage situation in the area “has not improved for many years.”
The swells of trash have raised concerns for wildlife in the nature reserve – a 32,000 square-mile area that hosts over 230 animal species, including the Tibetan antelope.
Li Junsheng, a deputy director of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, told The Global Times that the garbage could poison animals and humans and pollute water in the region.
He called for laws that regulate human activity in the region to be amended and published as soon as possible.
Hoh Xil’s frigid climate sees sub-zero temperatures all year round, which can reach as low as -49°F (-45°C).
The reserve, which is mostly uninhabitable, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017.
It’s part of China’s first national park, the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, which covers 47,500 square miles in total.
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