Monday, March 22, 2010

Sandy Precautions

The sandstorm subsided yesterday, but it came back again this morning, though not as severe as Saturday when the sky was yellow.

Today the sky looked overcast, but slightly fuzzy which is why I dug out a surgical mask to wear to work.

At the bus stop only a few people wore masks, and one woman had a bright fuchsia veil wrapped around her head to protect her from the sand. Several people put hands over their mouths in a feeble attempt to protect their mouths and noses from getting sand in them.

The current sandstorm has covered 16 Chinese provinces, originating from Mongolia and has spread down to Taiwan, Japan, and now South Korea.

On Saturday the pollution was so bad in the Chinese capital that the Beijing Meteorological Bureau ranked the air quality at level 5 which is the most hazardous pollution level.

Today it wasn't so bad, but still pretty nasty out there.

The sandstorms have also gone as far south as Hong Kong which recorded its worst pollution levels today, ranging from 450 to 500, when a reading of 100 is already considered bad.

With Beijing, at least there is some wind, but in Hong Kong, residents there are stuck breathing the smog-filled air.

While I haven't seen sandstorms of this magnitude in the almost three years I have lived here, they are a sure sign that the Chinese government's battle against desertification isn't very effective. While the government likes to boast about how many trees it has planted every year, there are not enough efforts made to fight deforestation and drought.

Southwest China is suffering its worst drought in 40 years and some are blaming it on the local governments' desire for short term monetary gains by selling forests to foresters who leave hillsides bare. While there are efforts to replant trees, they aren't growing properly or have roots deep enough to hold the land together. And will anyone be punished for leaving millions of people without enough water to sustain themselves, let alone their crops?

In the meantime we may another day of sand blowing in Beijing before it subsides. We hope.

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