5 de janeiro de 2016

China Red Alert warns of air pollution danger

Zou Yi's Beijing skyline photos show the variation in pollution levels on a daily basis.There were only 4 pollution free days in November. [Zou Yi]


Beijing residents carry on with life as government signals serious anti-pollution efforts in issuing Red Alert for smog.


Beijing, China 
It is Tuesday morning, 8am in the financial centre. Streets ordinarily choked with traffic are strangely quiet. The usual crowds of office workers congregating outside building entrances are missing, and the sidewalks are mostly empty - empty save for a few pedestrians briskly walking through the street, most with faces half-covered in masks.

It is Day One of the capital's first issued "Red Alert", but unlike the phrase suggests, this isn't a city under siege. This is a city under smog - dangerous levels of it.
The highest-level air pollution warning was given the evening before, triggered by three forecasted days of severe haze.
Residents received text messages from Beijing's municipal government warning them that all schools would be closed, construction halted and car restrictions put in place."Stay indoors," was the instruction, and most happily obliged.

With an air quality index (AQI) of over 250, more than twenty times the level recommended by the World Health Organization, the city was shrouded in thick sepia-toned air.
From street level the tops of skyscrapers seemed to disappear, blurring into the dull grey sky. In some areas visibility reportedly dropped to only 200 metres. But while this was the capital's first declared Red Alert, it wasn't the worst smog it had seen. Just days before the AQI levels soared to more than 1,000, and the city had seemed to disappear entirely.
Air pollution
For Margaret Zhu, a mother of two, Beijing's severe smog is nothing new. "It's like gambling, a lucky draw. Every day you wake up and look up at the sky and see how it goes. We're powerless," she says.
The public relations professional had been getting ready to put the kids to bed on Monday evening when she received the first Red Alert text message.
"It was so sudden and we didn't have time to plan anything," she says.
Like thousands of other parents in the city, she was told that the schools of her 10-year-old son Yoyo and daughter Ann, aged three, would not be open the next day, and alternative last-minute arrangements would need to be made. On the first of the three days, Zhu took time off work and scrambled to organise a day-trip out of the city for the second."With the smog, it's difficult to keep kids at home and not allow them to play outside," says Zhu."So we invited some of my son's friends to come with us to a forested area in the countryside where the air is much better. Other families I know packed up and drove even further to the mountains for the entire week to escape the pollution."
more in Al Jazeera
Katrina Yu |