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Anti-pollution protests are growing

world Updated: Sep 04, 2009 09:59 IST
Reshma Patil

The stench from the wastewater treatment factory was so noxious that hundreds of enraged residents of coastal Fengwei town reportedly took two local officials hostage, smashed factory windows and a car. China’s riot police freed the hostages only by 4 am on Tuesday.

As Beijing obsesses over maintaining stability a month before China’s 60th anniversary on October 1, the Chinese are increasingly taking to the streets — in anti-pollution protests.

Last month, an environment ministry team from New Delhi came to Beijing for climate change talks, and also to study the environment management technology of the largest developing nation as it grapples with the world’s fastest economic growth.

The Indian team was in Beijing while officials were grappling with a series of environmental embarrassments and protesting parents.

Mass lead poisoning had sickened children in two provinces. And in Shanghai, a former official of the municipal environment protection bureau faced trial for allegedly accepting bribes from 1997-2008 to hasten environment impact assesssments before approving factories.

Environment-related protests are rising by almost 30 per cent per year, according to China’s environment protection minister Zhou Shengxian. “Environmental quality is not satisfactory... environmental protection work is arduous,’’ the minister was quoted saying this week.

The Chinese media reported this week that lead poisoning has affected 200 more children, this time in southwest Kunming. It's the third such case since August, after 2,100 children, mostly under-14 and living near industrial plants in central Hunan province and northwest Shaanxi province were diagnosed with excessive lead levels. Lead poisoning triggers severe health problems including brain damage.

Before leaving Beijing, India’s environment team planned a joint air and water pollution study of two Chinese and Indian cities. It would be worthwhile to study Beijing, where officials count the days when the sky is actually blue, after years of an expensive pre-Olympics air quality cleanup. Despite the capital's environment problems, Beijing’s weather modifying scientists are not afraid to alter the environment. They are now studying the sky above Tiananmen Square to prevent rain on October 1, while vast swathes of China battle drought.