Beijing Becoming Uninhabitable Due To Pollution?

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The 34th Beijing International Marathon in the capital of China drew worldwide attention last year. The reason was that all the participants were clad in face masks, sponges and several other equipments that could assist them in battling the heavy smog and save them from polluted air of the city. A part of the tour of Beijing bicycle race was also cut short because of the dangerously poor air quality in the city.

Pollution has always been China’s major environmental concern. However, the ever-increasing levels of pollution in the country are dangerously close to making the place uninhabitable. People walking around the streets wearing paper masks and air purifying filters is a frequent and common sight in Beijing. On days with heavy smog, people in Beijing avoid going out in the streets at all and spend their day at home or retreat in a conditioned atmosphere with adequate protection from the foul air.

According to data from the World Bank, China harbours almost 16 of the world’s 20 cities with the worst air quality in the world. Only a third of the 340 Chinese cities that are monitored meet China’s own pollution standards. The Chinese government sources have also revealed that about a fifth of urban Chinese populate inhales heavily polluted air. China’s air quality started deteriorating due to the rampant industrialization and now the air in most places smell like leaded gasoline and high-sulfur coal.

Varying health problems and premature deaths from air pollution cost China as much as $300 billion a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said. Gas masks and air filters may sound like a scene taken from a scientific fiction which shows the adverse effects of industrialization but it is true, China is currently facing this reality.

The toxicity of the air in Beijing has crossed dangerous levels and the residents have been resorting to extreme measures to counter the ill-effects or to avoid inhaling the poisonous air at all. In 2013 in China, an entrepreneur manufactured cans of air to help people breathe fresh and unpolluted air. After receiving a great response, last year the same entrepreneurs came up with cans which were bagged with clean mountain air and there were several people lined up to take a whiff of the air from the bags.

Although there are reports of Beijing’s air pollution having dropped from last year, there has been only a slight drop. Municipal authorities of the city have said that levels of the most dangerous small particulate matter remained more than three times the internationally recommended limit in the air. However, the Chinese government has now “declared a war on pollution” and is taking various steps to cut coal use in some areas which is the major cause of air pollution in China.

Namrata Tripathi

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