Local governments on learning curve to combat smog

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-10 0:08:01

A swathe of China's northeastern cities reported high levels of PM2.5, a hazardous tiny airborne particle, on Monday. Shenyang, capital city of Liaoning Province, witnessed possibly the highest levels of the hazardous particulates. Real-time data released by the city's environment authorities showed the density was more than 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter. It was almost 50 times the recommended maximum by the World Health Organization, which is a 24-hour average of 25 micrograms.

Such a dangerous level of acrid smog shocked the public and the media were quick to point out the failure to enact local emergency measures to protect the public. Many local residents were reportedly not informed of the density of the harmful particulates and the website of the Shenyang Environmental Protection Bureau broke down for nearly two hours on Sunday. A construction site continued to work as workers said they had not received any notification to stop.

The heavy smog that swept the north China has brought huge challenges to local governments. Many places made emergency plans to deal with the severe haze and pollution. However in reality, these measures can be hard to implement.

Inconsistent channels of communication between local officials are blamed for directives from the top being slow to filter down. Local governments are also inexperienced in tackling heavy pollution and responding to public discontent.

Beijing has borne enormous pressure in coping with pollution and putting in place emergency measures to combat thick smog. In January 2013, it announced measures including temporarily factory shutdowns and taking government vehicles off the roads in extreme conditions. Since March this year, motorists would be limited to driving on alternate days when air pollution levels are heavy.

The local Chinese governments are still on a learning curve. The environmental problems did not come in a day but are due to a number of factors, such as unreasonable modes of energy consumption and industrial structure. When people's livelihoods contrast with government measures, authorities may find it hard to decide what to prioritize.

According to the official Weibo account of the Shenyang Environmental Protection Bureau, one reason for the extreme smog on Sunday was the city's coal-fired heating system having been switched on with the arrival of winter. It is a thorny issue if the public has to choose between staying in the cold and having clean air.

Chinese authorities did not stay where it was in tackling environmental pollution and have been stressing the importance of environmental protection. The harsh reality of air pollution should help build the rigorous attitude of authorities and at the same time the public should also lend a helping hand.

Posted in: Observer

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