China's pollution problem has turned worse with Beijing stuck in a blanket of smog for the fifth consecutive day.
There was no let up in the smog condition as falling temperatures are shooting up demand for heating and power loads.
The thick smog in Beijing and Northern China has disrupted flights, road traffic and many factories and schools have been ordered shut.
The "smog mess" has led to an exodus from the city with many choosing to move out of the city to other parts of the country and even foreign destinations.
The problem started last Friday when many evening walkers in Beijing spotted a dividing line on the horizon that was seen segregating blue sky and a muddy gray sky.
In the next few hours, the smog engulfed the blue sky and by night the municipal government of the city issued the first ever red alert of the year.
Reports say airborne pollutants are now 100 times more than the safe limit and the suffering of people has increased manifold. This has forced city residents into wearing masks and use of air purifiers.
The dangers of airborne pollutants are explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which warned that people exposed to toxic pollutants for long will become vulnerable to cancer and other serious health effects.
The Chinese government machinery is in an over drive with inspectors clamping bans on barbecues and insisting that cars with even number plates only ply on the road.
As mentioned, many residents are leaving the city temporarily on a "smog avoidance" travel.
According to Michelle Qi, an official with travel company Ctrip.com, the demand for plane tickets from Beijing to Southern China and coastal locations has gone up four times this week. Some sought after foreign destinations include Thailand and Japan
For those do not want to travel, travel websites such as Ctrip are offering incentives like hotels with air filtration systems.
"Enjoy a micro-forest, live in a fresh air room: enjoy your own a complementary air filtration machine," exhorts an advertisement of Ctrip offering hotel bookings with curated hotels.
Damage To Public Health
According to experts, the brunt of air pollution and smog is upon Beijing's 21 million residents who are facing the ill effects of toxic fog containing particulate matter, mercury, cadmium, sulfur dioxide, and lead. The toxic pollutants are contributed by factories and burning of coal.
In the city, cancer has emerged as the leading cause of death.
According to reports, Beijing's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has said despite life expectancy doubling, "the average 18-year-old Beijinger today should prepare to spend as much as 40 percent of those remaining, long years in less than full health, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, among other ailments."
"Under the Dome," a documentary film by journalist Chai Jing had effectively portrayed the gravity of the air pollution in China. Despite the menacing pollution, one reason for the persisting pollution is the clash between environmental health and economic priorities.
Photo: Michael Henley | Flickr