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In Focus: Air Pollution in China

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/18/2010

Air pollution in China is mostly attributed to the use of coal as its main source of energy. Today, China’s skies are smog-filled, its rivers and coastal areas dark and murky and its citizens, particularly the children are constantly at risk of dying from asthma and other respiratory diseases.

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    The Beginnings of Air Pollution in China

    120px-Factory in China The beginnings of air pollution in China was during the turn of the 1970s decade.and the ensuing years thereafter likewise saw the rapid economic success in China. The years ahead became marked with non-stop economic growth that uplifted millions of Chinese from poverty. The fast pace of financial success resulted to higher standards of living but unfortunately, at the price of turning the country into the world's number one factory.

    For 27 years, China built its success by using the abundance of its natural resources, which was in no way different from all other progressive countries during that era. Like its Western counterpart, the U.S.A., China is one of top energy users in the world; hence, the country also belongs to the top contributors of global air pollution. Like the US, China is also faced with an asthma epidemic.

    Today, much of China's environment is a collection of fog-filled atmosphere, smoggy cities, polluted rivers and coastal waters and a population at grave risk of death and respiratory illnesses especially the Chinese children. About 656,000 deaths are associated with air pollution, 400,000 of which are premature deaths while respiratory affliction reaches a figure of 20 million annually. Sad to say, the most affected are the Chinese children.

    According to the Asia Asthma Development Board (AADB), China has the highest mortality rate in the world, predicting that 36.7 out of 100,000 of China's asthma sufferers will not survive. Although the China Asthma Society does not acknowledge the accuracy of the figure, they still agree that the incidence of asthma in their country has reached alarming levels.

    Air Pollution in China

    China consumes about 1.9 billion tons of coal annually to supply about 75% of the country's energy demand. Most of the green house gasses are emitted during the country’s coal burning activities: CO2, mercury, arsenic, and sulfur dioxide plus great amounts of particulate matter. Automobile combustion includes nitrogen dioxide and benzene in its emissions while 70% of China's household use coal as their cooking and heating implements.

    What Causes the Rapid Acceleration of Asthma Incidences in China ?

    China remains dependent on coal for energy and its State Environmental Protection Administration is said to be poorly funded, while local governments deal with protectionism. Neither do the public nor civil society groups have enough support and empowerment to make a call for cause.

    According to studies made by the AADB, only a few doctors in China's towns and rural areas have enough knowledge to treat asthma.

    Generally, both the Chinese patients and doctors are not aware that asthma can be controlled as well as treated to a certain degree. The recent Avian flu and SAR's epidemic seemed to have influenced their outlooks.

    What Has Been Done About China’s Air Pollution Problem ?

    In 2007, the lack of information regarding China’s air pollution problem stirred a bit of controversy. Reports on the actual number of fatalities concerning China’s air-pollution were accordingly excluded in a World Bank study. The Financial Times reported that China's State Environmental Protection Agency managed to have the figures removed in order to avoid any social unrest among its citizens.

    The World Bank held talks with China regarding its pollution risk, especially when the 2008 Beijing Olympics was forthcoming at that time. A member of the World Health Organization steering committee ,who developed new guidelines along with 80 environmental health experts from all parts of the globe to address air quality among world regions, was tasked to explain the new guidelines to China's environmental protection agency.

    China in return disclosed their massive plans to improve their air quality for the benefit of their masses who were extremely suffering from respiratory illnesses brought about by the thick smog. As an assurance, Beijing, China’s capital promised “pristine skies, waterways, and cityscapes’" in the 2008 Olympics.

    Accordingly, 19 heavily polluting industries were ordered to cut emissions by 30 per cent, and large factories in major pollution source areas were closed down, including the Yanshan petrochemical zone.

    However, some athletes did not attend the 2008 Olympics for health reasons and of course, the pollution problem was still unappealing to some of them.

    All eyes are still on China as they continue with efforts to clean up their air pollution mess. Some Chinese citizens are said to have replaced their cars with affordable non-polluting electric cars and have contributed some degree of improvement. However, there is still a long way to go before the air pollution in China can be resolved.

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons