News / Asia

Smog Debate Stirs as Beijing Holds Off on Red Alert

Buildings are seen shrouded in heavy haze at Qingdao development zone, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2014.Buildings are seen shrouded in heavy haze at Qingdao development zone, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2014.
x
Buildings are seen shrouded in heavy haze at Qingdao development zone, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2014.
Buildings are seen shrouded in heavy haze at Qingdao development zone, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2014.
For nearly a week, the Chinese capital, Beijing, and a large swath of the northeastern part of the country have been blanketed by a thick, seemingly immovable veil of smog. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the situation should be seen as a crisis.  The Chinese government, however, has been taking a low-key approach to what some residents say is the worst smog they have ever experienced.
 
While many Beijing residents were avoiding China’s smoggy air this week and staying indoors, President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to an old Beijing neighborhood this week.
 
Political analysts say the visit was yet another effort by Xi to portray himself as a man of the masses. However, what was also noticeable about the visit was that neither the president nor those thronging around him were wearing facemasks.
 
The visit came the same day that WHO's China representative, Bernhard Schwartlander, called the pollution situation a crisis.
 
“A crisis means that we need to take immediate action to protect ourselves, so in these days, of course, we have to recommend that people don't go outside to have physical activities, they stay inside, keep children inside to the extent possible to protect them from the possible negative health effects that we have,” he said.
 
  • A man wearing a mask makes his way amid thick haze in Beijing, Feb. 25, 2014. 
  • A man wearing a mask drives a car amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing, Feb. 26, 2014. 
  • Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing, Feb. 26, 2014. 
  • Cars drive on the Three Ring Road amid the heavy haze in Beijing, Feb. 26, 2014. 
  • Japanese tourists wearing masks make their way to the Olympic Park amid thick haze in Beijing, Feb. 25, 2014. 
  • People visit the Olympic Park amid thick haze in Beijing, Feb. 25, 2014. 
  • Buildings are seen shrouded in heavy haze at Qingdao development zone, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2014. 
  • Children with respiratory illness receive treatment at a hospital in Beijing, Feb. 21, 2014. 
Slow response

Some have criticized the Beijing City government for its slow response to the smog. After criticisms late last week, the city raised its pollution alert level to Orange, the first time it has done so. But as pollution levels continued to rise, the government did not raise its alert to red, prompting concerns particularly among parents of young school children.
 
Huang Wei, Greenpeace East Asia’s climate and energy campaigner, says the government’s response has sent the public mixed signals.
 
Huang says that although the smog has been affecting the city for at least a week now, the city government’s response has not differed much from its approach to the problem in the past. She says that now, however, environmental officials should reflect on their decision not to close junior high and elementary schools, despite calls to do just that.
 
Orange is the city’s second highest alert level, at which schools and kindergartens are advised to cancel outside sports classes.  At red, the highest level of alert, schools must close and government vehicles are ordered to keep off the road. According to Beijing officials, levels must be forecast to be above severely polluted levels for three consecutive days for a red alert to be released.

Apparently, government officials did not believe Beijing's condition met that standard.
 
China has pledged to spend billions of dollars to fix its pollution problem, increased inspections of polluting plants, raised penalties as well as setting air quality targets. But the problem still seems to be getting worse.
 
On the streets in Beijing Wednesday, the prospect of any solution for the problem from residents was as clear as the sky above.
 
A Beijing resident who was born and raised in the capital says he has never experienced smog that has lasted this long. He says the pollution problem is so big and complex, and there are so many interlaced problems, that it is hard to imagine it can be resolved any time soon.
 
One elderly woman who refused to be identified said: "what difference would it make, it’s not like the government is going to listen to what I have to say."
 
This woman says that the smog was not only having a physical impact but psychological as well. She says everyone feels bad, if you just look around, everyone is just hurrying one place to the next to get away from the smog.
 
For now, the good news is that the recent spate of smog is almost over. Forecasters expect that an inversion that has helped trap the air over the city will soon end and winds will help move the choking air away.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs