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.
William Ide
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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs