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Beijing Air Pollution

Beijing Air Pollution

As the Olympic countdown reaches hours rather than days before kick-off, speculation about the weather condition become less abstract – will the pollution clear? – and more real – has it or not? However even now the issue of air pollution is a little hazy (apologies); conflicting stories seem and contrasting conditions seem to be stirring up debate.

Until this weekend, most reports were that pollution was not clearing – though officials blamed the smog on climatic conditions rather than industrial emmissions. China beat explains the situation well:

At the start of last week, for the fourth day in a row, emissions made it hard to see down the street, despite the fact the government ordered half the city’s cars off the road and closed factories. Officials said they would implement an emergency contingency plan on top of the existing anti-smog measures if pollution lingers closer to the Games.

Twenty-four hours later, the difference was night-and-day: thanks to a series of thunderstorms, triggered in part by the government’s arsenal of rainmaking rockets, the following days were dramatically better, like a nice day in New York.

The rain making mentioned was discussed by Bob earlier this year.

Tim Johnson summarises the conflicting media stories well by highlighting an NYT article about US cyclists with specially-made face masks and a China Daily article which appears to claim that the pollution will not impact the athletes. Well worth a read!

Then, however the smog returned with a vengence, suggesting that while the officials were correct in a way – the climatic factors do play an important part – the general level ofpollution is such that only on exceptionally good days is it relieved.

Johnson also mentions that his Beijing bureau are now publishing a daily photo (see above) of the view from their balcony and linking to to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s website to the daily Beijing air pollution index on their Olympics home page. Great idea, though how realiable the official statistics are Bob would hate to speculate…

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Paula Radcliffe has been focussing on very little this year apart from the Beijing Olympics, particularly since missing the London Marathon with a toe injury. But now it appears that another injury may rule out her chances in China too. On Wednesday an MRI scan revealed a stress fracture in her left femur.

Paula Radcliffe with Olympic TorchRadcliffe’s chances of running in Beijing seem unclear; at one time she says she is 90-100% sure she will be there, while commentators like BBC’s Mike Costello have described these chances as ‘slim’. A case of positive mental attitude on Radcliffe’s part perhaps, but it doesn’t sound likely that she will be able to train enough to be going to the Olympics with a realistic shot of a medal.

On a personal level this is very sad news, not only was Paula Radcliffe one of Team GB’s best gold medal prospects on the track, but after the drama of the Athens Games there can be few people in the UK who did not wish her success in Beijing. It may be too early to say, but it looks like Paula Radcliffe may be joining Haile Gabreselassie on the marathon sidelines.

The Games’ organisers may also feel some sympathy for Paula, for not only was she a star-prospect for their event, but she has also been a vocal supporter of the Games, with regard to political protests and pollution.

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Beichuan was struck by panic today (Saturday) and hurriedly evacuated, as rumours spread through the quake-ravaged city that a river up-mountain had burst its banks. Fear of flood waters bearing down on the remains of the city were enough to prompt a complete evacuation, halting the rescue efforts in their tracks.

Beichuan Evacuation Following Earthquake

The BBC’s Paul Danahar has been reporting throughout the day of the stampede of thousands of people, whose nerves are shattered after a week of such upheaval. The fact that survivors still being dug out of the wreckage had to be left where they were, really adds a cruel twist to the terrible events of the week:

“Everybody just ran – rescuers, army relief teams, medical workers and locals – and people who were in the process of being rescued had to be left behind.”

As the death toll of the earthquake in Sichuan continues to rise, time is getting shorter and shorter for the tens of thousands still buried; several people have been rescued on Saturday after up to 117 hours buried. The official total has reached 28,881, as of Saturday. So when all rescue efforts were suspended today, the delay could have been fatal for some of those still trapped.

Rescuers and residents have been returning to Beichuan, as the realisation that the rumours were a false alarm has reached them. Bob sincerely hopes that this delay has not cost any more lives.

At this stage there does not appear to be any speculation about the validity of the rumour, or the handling of the situation. Across the press and blogosphere both within China and internationally there appears to be wide-spread support for the Chinese authorities’ search and rescue efforts.

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It seems rather futile blogging about other issues in light of the fact that thousands of people still left buried by the Earthquake in Sichuan. The death toll now exceeds 12,000 and is sure to increase. The Olympics seem relatively trivial.

The New York Times (via CDT) describes how many people in China have been incensed by jubilant celebrations of the Olympics Torch relay in Fujian Province. This post has subsequently been updated with news that “Chinese officials announced that the relay will be scaled back while remaining on schedule, a nod to the thousands of victims of the earthquake”.

It also anounces that “Donation boxes will also be set up at future stops of the torch”.

If you are interested in making a donation see the information below (via TIME and Shanghiist):

“For those who are looking to contribute to current aid efforts underway, you can now donate money to the Red Cross Society of China which has formed a disaster relief working group to be dispatched to the earthquake-stricken Wenchuan County in Sichuan.

They have also published an emergency relief hotline, along with bank account information to receive donations to assist their cause:

Account name: Red Cross Society of China
开户单位:中国红十字会总会

For those who want to donate in RMB: you can send money to the RMB account at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China branch below:
人民币开户行: 中国工商银行 北京分行东四南支行
人民币账号: 0200001009014413252

For those who want to donate in foreign currency, you can send money to the foreign currency account at the CITIC Bank branch below:
外币开户行:中信银行酒仙桥支行
外币账号: 7112111482600000209

Hotline: (8610) 65139999
Online donations: Red Cross Society of China website: http://www.redcross.org.cn
Click the tab for online donations “

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The largest natural disaster to hit China in decades has struck in to the Sichuan county of Wenchuan. An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale occurred at 1428 Beijing time, on Monday.

The worst hit area appears to be Beichuan county, 50km from the epicentre, where the BBC reports that 80% of buildings were destroyed and 3,000-5,000 people were killed.

Make no mistake, this is a huge quake – larger than the Kashmir Earthquake that caused so much suffering in 2005 – the tremors were felt as far away as Beijing (960 miles/1,545 km away).

About the response effort BBC’s Quentin Sommerville says “is one of the most open and speedy responses to an emergency he has ever seen from Chinese state media”. However torrential rain and damaged communications links are hindering the rescue efforts.

The Beijing Olympics Blog will not be updated regularly enough to give you the most up-to-date news on the situation, so please see the recommended links below for the best places:

TIME – China Blog

The TIME blog has been updated numerous times already, relating the possible knock-on effects of the disaster. Discussion of the possibly impact on the Three Gorges Dam is one topic discussed already

China Digital Times

The CDT is a realiable and very regularly updated source of facts and images of the quake

BBC News

BBC News already has a couple of fact-filled reports on the situation, and check the main headlines to latest updates

Our thoughts are with those suffering from the impact of this disaster.

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Wild China, the joint venture between the BBC and CCTV aired earlier this evening on BBC 2, and it was spectacular!

Zhangjiajie - Bob\'s Picture of Wild China

“The last hidden world… China.”

An audacious opening line to the series, which epitomises the mystery that still surrounds China in much of the rest of the world. Having spent a long time with borders closed, China is still something ‘unknown’, which in part leads to some of the ignorance in foreign minds and media. Anyway…

Zhangjiajie - Bob\'s Picture of Wild China

This was a visual feast, and a real showcase for the great range of wondrous scenery China holds. This episode focused on South China (not much then!), from the trademark hills of Guilin to the reflective patchwork of Yunnan’s water-filled paddy fields. And not forgetting the awe-inspiring pinnacles of Zhangjiajie (pictured above).

It’s unusual to see a programme so well made, examining the Chinese landscape so closely – the slow-motion night-time shots of bats catching fish a particularly being fine example. This is a perfect example of CCTV and BBC working for mutual benefit, and the kind of coverage that should be coming out as the Olympics draw attention to China.

For anyone with access to the BBC iPlayer, you have 6 days to catch this episode, alternatively check out highlights.

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Some good news for the IOC and BOGOC this week came like a breath of fresh air after the torment of the torch relay; an athlete announced that pollution in Beijing will not be a big problem. Not just any athlete either, but marathon world record holder, and London Olympic torch bearer, Paula Radcliffe.

Paula Radcliffe with Olympic Torch

via the Metro:

“Paula Radcliffe believes pollution in Beijing will not be as big a problem as heat and humidity during the Olympic marathon.

The women’s marathon world record holder, who suffers from asthma, believes the air quality in the Chinese capital will not be the main concern for athletes.

‘It might not even be as bad as everyone thinks because I’m sure the Chinese will do everything they can to reduce the problem,’ said Radcliffe.”

This comes after male marathon world record holder Haile Gabrselassie pulled out of the Olympic marathon because of the threat to his asthma, and is exactly the kind of endorsement the Olympics needed right now.

Also interesting to note that Paula has been speaking out in defence of the Olympics and in criticism of the protesters at the torch relay on the BBC:

“A peaceful protest on the sidelines – fine. But don’t try to stop the torch, because the torch is about more than the Beijing Olympics. It’s about the Olympic spirit and the importance of the Olympics in teaching youth, and teaching the world, what sport can do – how sport can bring people together, how it can overcome suffering, how it has overcome even wars in the past.”

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