On my first day in this country, a Thai friend asked me about the air pollution in Beijing. I answered him helplessly: "There was much smog last winter, and the government has tried hard to solve this problem, but the effect is not obvious. I can't do much except live with the polluted air."
Our newspapers also focused on environmental issues when I was working in Beijing and smog had major coverage last winter. We reported many news items about the issue, analysed the situation and made suggestions. We also reported on people's health and their feelings. Even as I write this, smog has choked Harbin, forcing schools and highways to shut, and disrupting flights. Last year people felt outraged about the situation. They were all understandably worried that the bad air would affect their health. But they are the same as me _ we just hope that the government will solve the problem soon. We all know that air pollution cannot be solved in a short time, and living with the smog makes us feel powerless.
Hazy conditions also have a negative effect on people's health, especially children and the elderly and those who have asthma, allergies and lung problems. Those who work outside face an even higher risk to their health.
It is essential that we find a way to solve this problem. However, the only way we can protect ourselves is by wearing face masks to avoid breathing the toxic air. It was eye-opening for me to find that the more the air is polluted, the better the quality of the face masks available in the market. Another option followed by many people is to reduce outside activities and shut windows. The final option is to move to the countryside where the air is fresher and healthier. This drastic choice is constantly suggested by my parents.
I thought that smog only hit Beijing in winter, however it came earlier this year. I was shocked to learn from friends working in Beijing that haze struck again last month. It lasted for 15 days _ 11 days more than last time and even ran into the "Golden Week" this month, making this long holiday lose its charm.
Besides Beijing, other cities in northern China also suffered from the conditions. Last winter, Hebei, an industrial province close to Beijing, experienced serious air pollution. Hazardous conditions hit other cities in the province while 15 highways had to shut down and a large number of flights were cancelled. To handle the problem more effectively, the government has come up with a series of policies.
The most pressing one is to have the Ministry of Environmental Protection issue a strict control concerning fine particles released into the air by industrial factories. These fine particles play a major part in the formation of smog.
On Sept 29, in response to the government's air-pollution control policies, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau issued a five-year plan to control fine particles released into the air and promised to return clean air to the public.
The first day of October also saw authorities in Hebei announce a major plan to control air pollution, which included both protective and emergency measures.
This is only the beginning, but it's a good sign. However, reducing air pollution will be a long and arduous process and the public doesn't want to know how many policies and plans the authorities will initiate to solve the problem. Their only concern is the implementation as some cities are still focusing on economic development and ignoring environmental issues.
Beijing's goal is to reduce coal consumption by 13 million tonnes and cut fuel consumption by 5% by 2017. We don't know whether these figures have any significant meaning or really matter in solving air pollution. What I really want to see is the government working hard to return blue skies and clean air to Beijing and its denizens.
Cui Yuchen is a Chinese journalist based in Bangkok on the FK exchange programme.
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