updated 1/22/2007 11:13:16 AM ET 2007-01-22T16:13:16

Beijing is likely to suffer more-severe sandstorms than normal this spring due to an unusually mild and dry winter, local media reported on Monday.

Higher-than-average temperatures and little snowfall could exacerbate the problem when heavy winds sweep across northern China, the Beijing News said, citing the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.

"This warm, dry weather loosens the soil, and when the wind lifts in spring, sandstorm conditions can easily develop," the paper quoted BEPB chief Shi Hanmin, as saying.

"Because of this, Beijing this spring could possibly face severe sandstorm pollution."

Beijing and much of northern China suffer sandstorms every spring, as heavy winds lift soil from the country's West and Mongolian steppes and dump dust on homes and cars thousands of miles away.

Desertification and persistent drought have exacerbated the problem in recent years, with the thick yellow dust reaching as far away South Korea and Japan.

Beijing, which suffered 17 sandstorms in the spring of 2006, has pledged to hold a sandstorm-free Olympics in 2008 and has launched campaigns to repair denuded land and rein in over-grazing and over-logging.

But environmental officials have admitted that China, a third of whose landmass is desert, will never completely tame the storms due to the sheer size of its sandy regions.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday that 462,666 hectares of land in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia were lost to soil erosion in 2006.

In a bid to improve the capital's air quality, Beijing would introduce a raft of measures in 2007, Shi said, including upgrading 1,100 boilers and canceling 2,580 high-polluting public buses and enforcing "Euro 4" emissions standards for all new cars in 2008.

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