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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Worsening pollution prompts crackdown in Beijing

July 31, 2008

Officials eye pulling 90% of cars off road ahead of Olympics
The Globe and Mail
July 29, 2008

BEIJING -- With heavy smog still shrouding the city and the Olympics
only 10 days away, Beijing is considering a series of emergency
measures to fight pollution, including the removal of up to 90 per
cent of cars from the streets.

The emergency measures could also include the shutdown of more
factories and the complete closing of all construction sites in the
capital, the Chinese state media reported yesterday.

Factories and residents in the nearby city of Tianjin and the
neighbouring province of Hebei could also be affected by the
emergency measures, the government said.

The haze in Beijing was so bad yesterday that visibility was reduced
to just a few hundred metres. Olympic stadiums were barely visible
behind the smog.

China acknowledged yesterday that pollution in Beijing has remained
high, despite more than a week of drastic cuts to city traffic. Half
of the city's 3.3 million private cars have been forced off the
streets every day under the current rules, but the system seems to be failing.

The city's air quality has been dangerously unhealthy for the past
four days, exceeding the national standards for the pollution index,
the state-run China Daily reported yesterday.

The emergency measures will be officially announced soon, and will be
put into effect within 48 hours if the air quality deteriorates
during the Olympics, the newspaper said.

It cited the recommendation of one environmental expert who suggested
that up to 90 per cent of private cars should be removed from the
streets every day. Under this plan, cars would be permitted on the
roads only on dates that matched the last digit on their licence plates.

China has promised a "green Olympics" in Beijing, but there is
growing concern about the smog. Environmental group Greenpeace
reported yesterday that the level of small particles in the air
(PM10, a key measure of pollution) is still twice as high in the city
as the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.

Greenpeace also noted that China does not even measure ground-level
ozone, which can be dangerous to the respiratory system.

The BBC reported that its own air-quality tests yesterday at the
Olympic Village found the level of small particles was three times
higher than the recommended level.

Many athletes are worried about the smog. Some top competitors,
including marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of
Ethiopia, have decided to skip the Games to protect their health.

The International Olympic Committee says it might delay some outdoor
events if pollution levels are unhealthy. Some athletes have
considered wearing masks during their training sessions in Beijing.

Canada is sending its entire track-and-field team to Singapore for
its pre-Olympic training camp. The athletes will remain in Singapore
even during the opening days of the Olympics, to minimize their
exposure to Beijing's pollution.

The Australian Olympic Committee said yesterday it will allow its
athletes to withdraw from any Olympic competition if they feel
pollution is a threat to their health.

Faced with the persisting smog, China has reacted with a mixture of
denial and reassurance. At a news conference on the weekend, Chinese
officials said the grey haze in Beijing is usually just "water
vapour" or "light fog" or "dust."

Environmentalists say the authorities are using pollution standards
that are looser than the normal world standards. For example, Beijing
uses the term "blue-sky day" for any day when the pollution index is
below 100. Yet anything above 50 is unhealthy, some experts say. Even
on an official "blue-sky day" in the capital, the haze is often
enough to blot out the sun.

China has spent billions of dollars on anti-pollution measures in
Beijing in the past several years, and most analysts say it has
managed to reduce the level of some pollutants in the city. But with
its massive economic growth, its thousands of new cars on the roads
and its booming factories, the level of smog has persisted at
relatively high levels, despite the improvements.
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