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Smoggy skies call for revival of Olympic strategy

By Bai Ping | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-12 07:09

Under an emergency blueprint, if extremely unfavorable atmospheric conditions were to hit Beijing during the Games, authorities had plans to close hundreds of other polluting factories and ban more vehicles from plying in Beijing and neighboring Tianjin municipality and Hebei province.

The blue-sky drive is said to have cost companies and local governments dearly. But officials involved in the preparations were told that it was a political mission and their jobs could be on the line if they failed to fulfill their assigned tasks.

However, after the Games, the environment returned to its usual self. And the city continues to choke on a combination of factors, from coal burning and vehicular emissions to dust and bad weather, which the Olympic organizers had dreaded and overcome.

Beijing recorded record levels of air pollution in January this year. Now officials are jittery about a growing possibility of heavy pollution striking the capital again this winter.

In a move reminiscent of the Olympic campaign, the government ordered Beijing and its surrounding regions in August to take effective precautionary measures and "fight a tough battle" against air pollution by taking measures such as halting production and reducing outputs to curb emissions. Authorities in Beijing and its neighboring areas will also have to work together to deal with the threat in the coming winter.

Controlling air pollution will not come cheap, and as happened in the run-up to the Olympics, top local officials will be held accountable if heavy air pollution continues for three consecutive days because of their slackness or negligence in countering the problem.

While everybody appeared to have been caught off-guard by the fall smog in Beijing, there are no reports of heads rolling under the accountability system. Perhaps punishment is only meant for the wintry battle or intended to serve as a stern warning to prompt officials into over-drive.

Let's keep our fingers crossed because the day of reckoning will soon come when blaming the weather or geographic conditions for air pollution will not be an option.

The writer is editor-at-large of China Daily. dr.baiping@gmail.com

(China Daily 10/12/2013 page5)

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