April 18, 2006

Chinese premier warns of environmental toll

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said
that dust storms that whipped Beijing and northern China in
recent days were a sharp reminder of the severity of the
country's environmental problems.

Wen told an environmental meeting in Beijing that China
needed to intensify efforts to rein in pollution and
environmental destruction, the Xinhua news agency reported.

"The succession of dust storms is a warning to us," Wen was
quoted as saying on Monday. "Ecological destruction and
environmental pollution are creating massive economic losses
and gravely threatening people's lives and health."

A sand storm struck the Chinese capital on Monday covering
homes, streets and cars in brown dust and leaving the skies
murky yellow as northern China suffered the worst pollution in

The Chinese Central Meteorological Station estimated that
the storms had enveloped one eighth of the country over recent

Two workers died several days ago in ferocious storms in
the western province of Gansu, Xinhua said.

Strong winds overnight cleared away the dust over Beijing
which is trying to clean up its environment as it prepares to
host the 2008 Olympics.

But so far this year the city has recorded 56 days with
blue skies -- 16 fewer than for the same time last year, Xinhua

Wen said that China has met its economic targets for
previous years but fallen short of pollution control goals. In
2005 the country's sulfur dioxide emissions were 27 percent
higher than 2000 levels, although the government had set a goal
of reducing emissions by 10 percent over that time, he said.

Wen ordered local governments to release information about
energy use and pollution output every six months.

An editorial in the People's Daily -- the ruling Communist
Party's chief newspaper -- on Wednesday said that despite
improvement in some cities, the nation's environmental
degradation "remains extremely severe."

"Problems built up over a long time have not been resolved,
new ones are emerging, and environmental pollution is
dramatically increasing," it said.