Dark cloud hanging over Beijing Games

Beijing, July 28:

Beijing and co-host city Hong Kong were on Monday blanketed in smog just 11 days before the Games, raising the stakes for organisers who were planning more emergency measures to clear the air.

Despite years of Chinese efforts to rid of the notorious pollution and a raft of recent attempts at quick fixes, a typically thick haze cut visibility across Beijing to a few hundred metres. With some athletes already training in Beijing and elsewhere in China, the persistent pollution was jeopardising China’s promise of a “Green Games”. Adding to the swirl of bad publicity for China, Greenpeace released a report saying Beijing’s air quality was still well short of international guidelines.

And a Japanese company that makes industrial-strength dust masks said Japan’s Olympic delegation would take 500 of his products to Beijing to guard against the pollution.

Last week Beijing ordered more than a million of the nation’s 3.3 million cars from the roads and closed dozens of polluting factories. In a last-ditch bid to clear the skies before the Games, the state-run China Daily said the government may ban 90 per cent of private cars and close more factories. The paper said contingency measures such as the more extreme car ban could be implemented two days before the Games. “We will implement an emergency plan 48 hours in advance if the air quality deteriorates,” Li Xin, a senior engineer with the bureau, was quoted as saying.

Nevertheless, the Beijing Olympics organising committee said it was still confident athletes would have little to worry about in regards to pollution. “With the measures we have taken, we are fully confident that we can ensure clean air for the Games,” committee spokesman Sun Weide said.

The pollution woes were not confined to just Beijing, reflecting the problems across China as the environment has taken a back seat to economic development over the past 30 years.

In Hong Kong, which will host the equestrian events, the city’s air pollution level was classified as high and horses preparing for the Games were forced to train in the smog. A spokesman for the Equestrian Company, which is responsible for hosting the Olympic equestrian events, said a range of high-tech measures had been employed to protect the horses. “We have kept our horses in a high-ceilinged, six-star stable,” the spokesman said.

In its report, Greenpeace said levels of particulates, one of the major measures of pollution, were still twice as high in Beijing as recommended by the World Health Organisation.