Monday, 9 December 2013

China's greatest challenge- pollution?

Is China taking a great leap backwards- environmental hazards

Walking along the Bund in Shanghai in early December in 2013- the Bund is the beautiful waterfront separating the old city from the new city- one could hardly discern the museum of tall skyscrapers on the other side of the river. The boats on the river were like moving shadows. All this because a mist, a haze, polluted clouds enwrapped this beautiful city. The local authorities banned all out door sport for children because the air quality was toxic. Neighbouring schools were closed and traffic flows limited.

The great challenge facing China and its people is the poisoning of its air and people- all in the name of progress and development! Authorities now admit of cancer villages surrounding many industrial sites in China. Chinese friends speak of the growing levels of cancer amongst their family and neighbours. International students going to Beijing and other large cities and academic institutions are less because of toxic air but also poor water quality and food. Baby food and formula is the most requested gift sought by parents in China from visitors coming from abroad. All travellers from Hong Kong to mainland China get a a warning across the intercom that only 2 packets of baby formula and powdered baby food is allowed. If one is caught taking more one is liable to a fine of 500,000 HK Dollars. This means there is panic amongst parents about the health of their children in mainland China.

Some estimates put the polluted water ways in China as high as 40%. When this water is used for irrigation the food chain is corrupted. Recent research and reports write of over 1 million premature deaths in China per year related to air pollution.
Hong Kong newspapers reported in late November that the relatively new USA Ambassador based in Beijing wanted to give up his post and return to the USA seemingly, for family educational reasons but the real reason suggested was that Beijing was an unhealthy place to live given the level of pollution in the city. Unfortunately, 1.3 billion people cannot move and have to breathe this polluted air. Those who can afford medical masks wear them diligently. One can even buy a can of fresh air in some areas in China!

The controversial Catholic Shanghai Bishop Jin Luxian died in April 2013. In his last interviews he spoke of his heartfelt wishes for his Diocese and people 1. The Shanghai Diocese would become a Diocese that cares for the poor 2. He hoped that Shanghai authoritiesand society would stop and reflect on the development orientations of the city. He believed livelihoods and the quality of life of the people neededspecial attention. He warned against falling into the trap of money worship, and he believed neglect of the quality of life and damage to the environment were key challenges for his people and Government. His words are indeed prophetic given the poor quality of health suffered by many people because of air pollution in many parts of China today.

The Chinese Government and people can learn useful lessons from the West in relation to their struggles over the years in dealing with similar problems and the present economic crisis. However, the most notable lesson it can learn is how unregulated development - doing business without ethics- progress without consideration for the whole person-greed for money can affect the livelihoods of millions and impact negatively generations of peoples

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