Vast areas of China’s north-east were choking in smog on Monday, as the Asian giant grappled with yet another horrendous air pollution crisis threatening millions of lives.
Schools and colleges were forced to suspend classes in Chinese Manchuria’s largest cities, including the culturally rich metropolis of Harbin. Road traffic was paralyzed as visibility was drastically compromised, while local airports were shut-down annoying thousands of travelers.
While the emerging global power has made rapid strides in curtailing particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (PM10),
the index measuring particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM2.5), shot above 1,000 in Harbin urban area, with a population of more than 11 million people, or one third the size of Canada. A reading above 300 is considered alarmingly hazardous, with severe health consequences for respiratory functions and eyes, whereas the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations are set at daily levels of 20 or less.
This means the level of smog was 50 times more than WHO limits, a figure worth pondering over for environmental activists as well as international community. The powerful state controlled Xinhua News Agency was compelled to lament that on the first day of winter heating, airports, highways, schools were hampered by smog, a predictable result of coal produced electricity. (image)
In addition, the visibility was reduced to 10 meters, while the smog is expected to envelope the vast region bordering Russia, Korea and Japan for the next couple of days. Air quality in Chinese cities has not only severely affected the health of Chinese nationals, but the dense smog has made its way to Korean peninsula, Japan, as well as Russia’s Amur region.
Matters came to a head in February 2013, when Japan accused arch foe China of waging a smog war and even endangering Mount Fuji, its beloved national symbol. The Chinese Communist Party, which is not as communist after all these days, is acutely aware of the power and potential of popular resentment channeling into political action over the burning issue of air, water and soil pollution.
Much like Washington DC-New York clique that enjoys gullible American tax-payers’ wealth, social media users of China’s popular Sina Weibo micro-blogging site mocked Beijing authorities in anger, as they shared stories of corrupt government officials using state-of-the-art purifiers and high quality food from organic farms, while the 99% suffer from debilitating smog and deadly food safety scandals.
In fall 2012, Hong Kong SAR was invaded by smog from mainland, as the city dwellers scrambled to contain the health hazard. Beijing has witnessed PM2.5 levels of 900 or more recurrently including last winter, jeopardizing the health of its 20 million urban residents.
Last week, Beijing released a color-coded alert system, similar to Bush regime’s color-coded terror-alert, to address air pollution catastrophes, including suspension of factory work, construction, school closures etc. Despite Beijing’s two-pronged effort to curb pollution by population control through the imposition of “one child policy,” and massive investments in renewable energy, the population momentum is so powerful, that it will take years, if not decades to arrive at WHO’s standards of air, water and soil quality.
China should look towards the much cleaner South Korea for inspiration on ways to reduce air-pollution as well as population growth, as both countries share Confucian culture and patterns of behavior, life style and value system.