It was only after living in Beijing for four months, that I first noticed hills in the distance from my windows, the personal smog meter of my 21st floor home office.
I wondered if it was a hallucination that sunny August morning on a rare day of clear skies, since I have learnt to consider it a pleasant day if I can view more than the silhouette of high-rises across the street in the worlds fastest growing economy.
Hours before Friday nights 8.08 pm (local time) opening of the Olympic Games at the 500 million dollar Bird’s Nest stadium that is built to symbolise heaven, organisers of the costliest-ever Olympics opening ceremony hoped for a heavenly stroke of luck. In Chinese, the number eight stands for wealth and fortune. Officials insisted the air quality was safe on Friday and would improve in August, but Beijing badly needed good fortune to lift the grey blanket covering its big day and the Bird’s Nest.
Beijing — one of the worlds most polluted cities — still does not reveal its levels of two dangerous pollutants called ozone and fine particulate matter that can trigger respiratory disorders.
But it has mobilised satellite data and shot rockets in the sky to disperse air pollution. From July, construction sites and factories in the capital and neighbouring provinces came to a temporary standstill for the Games.
The International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who once said that outdoor endurance events like the marathon may be postponed if they posed a respiratory health risk for athletes, now says that the Chinese have done everything feasible to improve air quality.
But is it enough? That’s the message in Beijing’s hazy skyline.
While Indian urban planners study China’s sea bridges, highways, special economic zones and airports, a closer look at Beijing’s battle against the smog despite a $17 billion environmental cleanup could provide useful insight for India’s modernising metros. From July 20-September 20, half the city’s 3.3 million cars have been ordered off the roads on alternate days. On Friday, Xinhua news agency said that in case of extremely bad weather conditions another two lakh cars in Beijing and over a million cars in neighbouring provinces would stay idle.
Indian expats are surprised when they move to Beijing, that Mumbai and New Delhi’s air quality is better. Here, I found myself gazing at the blue sky, which is so rare in Beijing that officials count blue sky days. This year, there were 152 blue sky days until August 3.