China worried as smog virtually shuts down major city

22 Oct 2013


Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, in a harbinger of what could happen in other developing countries like India with a single-minded focus on industrial growth.

PollutionThe smog in the city of Harbin, the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang province in China's northeast region, as well as the tenth most populous city in the country, was so bad that it reduced visibility to a few metres, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

Small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than international safety standards in Harnin as north China entered winter, its high-smog season.

An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.

A level above 300 is considered positively hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on in the city for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 metres.

The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

In considerable contrast to India, air quality in Chinese cities is causing increasing concern to China's leadership because it plays into popular resentment over political privileges and rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy.

The domestic media has run stories describing the expensive air purifiers that government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so cadres need not risk suffering from recurring food safety scandals.

Users of China's popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging site reacted with both anger and bitter sarcasm over Harbin's air pollution.

''After years of effort, the wise and hard-working people of Harbin have finally managed to skip both the middle-class society and the communist society stages, and have now entered a fairyland society!" wrote one user.

Other parts of northeastern China also experienced severe smog, including Tangshan, not far from Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.

Last week, Beijing city released a colour-coded alert system for handling air pollution emergencies, to include the temporary halt of construction, factory production, outdoor barbeques and the setting off of fireworks.

Perhaps the authorities and the general public in India's metros and larger cities too should wake up to the problem!

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