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June 8, 2008 / Mridul

Games-Driven Pollution Reduction Temporary, China Needs To Do More

New York Times’ Keith Bradsher reports from Hong Kong that

Emissions of sulfur dioxide, mainly from coal-fired power plants and the primary cause of acid rain, declined 4.66 percent last year.

Emissions of organic pollutants into waterways, as measured by tests of chemical oxygen demand, declined by 3.14 percent last year. Industries reduced their discharges of solid waste into the air and water by 8.1 percent.

Bucking the trend of rising pollution levels for years China managed to record a decline in the levels of three major pollutants. After assuring the International Olympic Committee that the pollution levels in the host cities would be under control and there would be no risk to the healths of participating athletes, the Chinese government passed stringent quality standards and made its industries follow them. Heavy penalties and orders to cleanse flue gases before their disposal into the atmosphere were some of the noticeable steps taken by the Chinese officials. But unfortunately China’s pollution problem isn’t restricted to its territorial boundaries.

Cross border pollution, became a issue when the Japanese industrial boom caused in the years following the Second World War, refers to the flow of pollutants-laden winds crossing over from the source country to the neighboring countries. The major obstacle with dealing this problem is that it very often leads to confrontations among countries as national air quality standards vary form country to country. China and its neighbors – Japan, South Korea and Russia – are facing the same trouble.

Schools in southern Japan and South Korea have had to suspend classes or restrict activities because of toxic chemical smog from China’s factories or sand storms from the Gobi Desert, which are either caused or made worse by severe deforestation. And in late 2005, an explosion at a chemical plant in northeastern China spilled benzene into the Songhua River, contaminating the drinking water of Russian cities downstream from the spill.

After numerous pollution disasters China was forced to collaborate and provide information to its neighbors so that the contamination levels could be controlled. A hotline was setup with Russia to monitor the river pollution while Chinese government agreed to join South Korea and Japan to come up with control measures for the increasing air pollution.

According to a recent Gallup poll, a majority o Beijing residents believe that the quality of air in the city has improved.

However the poll also reveled that a majority of Beijing residents still see pollution as “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.

China has a history of concealing information about pollution disasters and although the information has now started to trickle out, understandably due to Beijing’s promise of providing free access to the press, the issue of proper management of such mishaps and the overall improvement of the air and water qualities throughout the country remains largely unsolved.

It is largely believed that once the Games are over the Chinese authorities would ease the current restrictions on the industries. This notion gets fuel from the fact that the government plans to close down factories around Beijing during the Games while failing to come up with a future plan regarding their emission standards.

The 2008 Olympics have provided China with a golden opportunity to clean up its act. With the world hoping that China would take some concrete steps to control its rising pollution levels, it is time that the government adopts a serious outlook towards a long term nationwide pollution reduction program. taking responsibility and acknowledging its duty to prevent cross border pollution should be an important part of such a program.

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