Images of Beijing shrouded in an eerie yellow haze as sandstorms hit northern China with a vengeance this week led to a rush of memes comparing the country’s capital with scenes from dystopian film Bladerunner 2049.
The disaster also led to the deaths of six people, while dozens more (mainly herdsman from rural areas) remain missing.
Now, questions are being asked by reports in China’s local media about the role of the cashmere industry and the overgrazing it has caused in neighbouring Mongolia (where the storm originated), in the disaster.
Mongolia is the world’s second-largest producer of cashmere (behind only China), accounting for approximately a third of global supply. Its cashmere industry employs 7,000 people, according to figures from the Mongolian Cashmere and Wool Association.
According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) data, in the 30 year period to 2020, Mongolia’s livestock numbers tripled, leading, the IMF said, to increased degradation of grassland and feed shortages.
This degradation is now seen as a leading culprit in an increase in the number and severity of sandstorms likely to continue to be seen in Mongolia, China, Japan and South Korea, if nothing is done to reverse the trend of increasing herds and decreasing grasslands.