• Sat
  • Nov 29, 2014
  • Updated: 8:48am
Column
PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 5:09am

Clean air to breathe is a human right, too

As anger grows among smog-bound residents, the leadership seems to lack the political will to make tackling rampant pollution a top priority

BIO

Wang Xiangwei took up the role of Editor-in-Chief in February 2012, responsible for the editorial direction and newsroom operations. He started his 20-year career at the China Daily, before moving to the UK, where he gained valuable experience at a number of news organisations, including the BBC Chinese Service. In 1993, he moved to Hong Kong and worked at the Eastern Express before joining the South China Morning Post in 1996 as our China Business Reporter. He was subsequently promoted to China Editor in 2000 and Deputy Editor in 2007, a position he held for four years prior to being promoted to his current position. Mr. Wang has a Masters degree in Journalism, and a Bachelors degree in English.
 

After days of being shrouded in heavy smog, Beijing residents woke up on Friday to spectacular blue skies.

But they had the heavenly Lord rather than "Grandpa Wen" (the nickname of Premier Wen Jiabao ) to thank for the respite after strong winds overnight blew away the pollutants.

A cynical text message conveyed gratitude to the 20 million Beijing residents for sucking up the hazardous brown and grey soot day and night and allowing the sun to come shining through.

What an "accomplishment" that is, given the fact that Beijing experienced the worst and longest-lasting air pollution in recent history during last month.

A total of 26 out of the 31 days were heavily polluted, with an air quality index reading that meant people were warned to stay indoors. The other five days of clear skies came after strong winds.

But Beijing residents were not the only ones who suffered.

Official reports show that at one point, thick smog enveloped 1.4 million square kilometres in the northern and eastern areas of the mainland, with up to 800 million people forced to inhale the filthy air.

Flights were cancelled or delayed, highways were closed and hospitals were crowded with patients seeking respiratory treatment.

Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory disease specialist, warns that air pollution is even more frightening than the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic because no-one can escape it. In 2003, Sars killed 299 in Hong Kong and hundreds more in over 20 countries.

With the unprecedented scale of air pollution and rising anger among residents, one would assume there is no better time for the country's leaders - who like to preach the policy of putting the people first - to go on television and apologise for the environmental disaster.

And they should promise to take serious legislative measures to clean up the air, even though everyone knows the legislation may take many years to have any noticeable effect.

Unfortunately, the official response has been very lame - with an absence of any apologies - even though popular anger has prompted the state media to report more openly on the air quality problems.

To be fair, officials in the affected areas have vowed to improve the air quality and take immediate measures, including shutting down high-polluting factories and banning a certain number of vehicles from the roads.

But there is a lack of political will at every level of the government to make tackling air quality a top priority.

Outgoing Premier Wen, who is known for rushing to the scenes of natural disasters to comfort the victims, addressed the issue only in passing when soliciting views on his last government work report, to be delivered in March.

His successor, Li Keqiang, briefly talked about the difficulties of cleaning up the air.

That is too bad.

Last month's record pollution levels should sound a serious warning to the leadership, which has overseen more than 30 years of pursuing economic growth above all else. This policy has made the economy the second largest in the world, but at a great cost to the environment.

More than 70 per cent of the mainland's lakes and rivers, and over 90 per cent of the groundwater in urban areas is seriously polluted, even unfit for animals to drink.

Nearly 300 million mainlanders, most in rural areas, do not have access to clean water.

Leaders have taken pride in saying that China has made great progress on the issue of human rights by lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

To enable them to breathe clean air and drink clean water are other human rights the central government must work hard to guarantee.

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This article is now closed to comments

scmpbeijing1
Another wonderful rehash of old news from previous weeks, with zero added value. All old news here.
dm.maret
Please note that chronic heavy air pollution is known to cause permanent damage to childrens' lung development. See: ****www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070815085433.htm . This is associated with long-term adverse health effects. Is a job in such places worth it if one knew that one's "healthy" life-expectancy would be reduced by ten years or more? Some may have no choice, but others hopefully do.
dunndavid
For China to solve this problem they are going to have admit failure and give up a large measure of control. For instance in the power industry, China would have to admit that 1. Emissions data from the power plants is largely false, new equipment needs to be installed at the plant and collection of data should be carried out by independent 3rd parties - such as internationally based service companies. An example of a similar arrangement was some years ago when Indonesia admitted that it's customs service was corrupt beyond repair and outsourced customs collection work to Swiss-based SGS. In this case Indonesia should great humility, something that China has not so far shown 2. China will have to admit that their cornerstone air pollution ebatement program of 10 years, the FGD scrubber program is a vastly underresourced fiasco, and needs to be completely revamped with large amount of international participation 3. China will need to sell at least a portion of it's power generating capacity to international companies under attractive terms, so that China will be able to start to see what modern, low pollution producing power plants are like and have something to benchmark with. All of these measures will require the CCP to eat large portions of humble and will only succeed in reducing the increase of air pollution. However, these measures are a start. No measures currently being discussed by the Chinese govt. qualify as even a start. David Dunn www.airmonitor-china.com
SpeakFreely
Cleaning us the mess could cost a big chunk of the 3T reserve plus make export much expensive and uncompetitive. No free lunch.
Asynsis
Sustainable Design & Development is a prerequisite for our civilisation surviving within a viable biosphere in a time of climate crisis. A new law of nature is already inspiring a new law of man in Europe, it will only be a matter of time before this new paradigm becomes global, as it surely needs to be. The future belongs to the optimalists.
****eradicatingecocide.com
****www.endecocide.eu
****constructal.org
wwong888
it is a human right i agree. however, there are just a few other human rights that our chinese brethren are deprived, so sadly this argument won't inspire the commie kleptocrats.
 
 
 
 
 

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