A Dif­fer­ent War

As a re­sult of its gal­lop­ing growth, China is now com­bat­ing pol­lu­tion on a war foot­ing.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asna Ali

Pol­lu­tion has reached dan­ger­ous lev­els in China.

Ear­lier this year, a doc­u­men­tary was re­leased in China which earned a 100 mil­lion views in less than two days. Called ‘ Un­der the Dome,’ the doc­u­men­tary was the brain­child of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Chai Jing. It took a long, hard look at the air pol­lu­tion prob­lem in China. Need­less to say, this is an is­sue the Chi­nese are gravely con­cerned about, as they should be. Air pol­lu­tion in the coun­try has reached toxic lev­els and is tak­ing lives. It is es­ti­mated that ap­prox­i­mately 2.5 mil­lion Chi­nese die from ef­fects of air pol­lu­tion ev­ery year.

Around the same time, the Chi­nese en­vi­ron­ment min­istry re­leased the re­sults of an as­sess­ment of air qual­ity of the 74 big­gest cities in the coun­try. Out of th­ese, only 8 met the ba­sic air qual­ity stan­dards in 2014 which, as the of­fi­cial state­ment pointed out, was an im­prove­ment on the pre­vi­ous year when only 3 had met the stan­dards. The most pol­luted cities in China are in the north­east where the coal min­ing dis­tricts are lo­cated. It isn’t just the air. The qual­ity of nearly 60% ground­wa­ter has also been termed as poor or very poor by en­vi­ron­men­tal re­searchers and, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial re­port, nearly one fifth of the coun­try’s farm­land is con­tam­i­nated by heavy met­als. The gov­ern­ment has ad­mit­ted to th­ese be­ing ‘can­cer vil­lages, be­cause there is an un­prece­dented in­ci­dence of can­cer there as a re­sult of pol­lu­tion from in­dus­trial plants.

For decades now, China has pur­sued re­lent­less eco­nomic growth, ig­nor­ing the dire warn­ings about its de­te­ri­o­rat­ing en­vi­ron­ment and the cost of pro­duc­ing huge amounts of en­ergy to power its cities and in­dus­tries. The pol­lu­tion prob­lem has now be­come too big to ig­nore and the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has pledged its com­mit­ment to cut­ting down emis­sions across the board.

How­ever, it is not a sim­ple case of re­duc­ing one or two harm­ful emis­sions. The air above Chi­nese cities is a toxic mix of chem­i­cals. Th­ese chem­i­cals in­ter­act with each other in a va­ri­ety of ways to form harm­ful com­pounds. Re­duc­ing one could lead to an in­crease in oth­ers or to changes in weather pat­terns and, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, short-term in­ter­ven­tions are no longer the so­lu­tion. A long-term ded­i­cated pol­icy is needed to mon­i­tor air qual­ity and com­po­si­tion to map the

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