China's Saihanba afforestation community on Tuesday scooped a prestigious UN environmental award for its outstanding contribution to restoration of degraded landscapes, amid national efforts to advance ecological protection. News of Saihanba afforestation community emerging as a top winner at the annual UN Champions of the Earth Awards was made in Nairobi during the ongoing third edition of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3). Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), hailed the Saihanba community for pioneering innovative and cost effective grassroots-led initiatives to reclaim degraded landscapes. "The Saihanba afforestation community has transformed degraded land into a 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 has inspired the global community to start a new conversation about effective measures 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 north China's Hebei Province, almost became a waste land in the 1950s due to rampant felling of trees which caused sandstorms in Beijing and adjacent regions. In 1962 hundreds of foresters embarked on tree planting in Saihanba in an attempt to stop rapid desertification. Three generation of foresters from Saihanba have managed to increase the forest cover from 11.4 percent to 80 percent. The reclaimed landscape currently supplies some 137 million cubic meters of clean water to Beijing.