A new study by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China has revealed that air pollution is becoming worse and that it has conquered most cities. Out of the 74 Chinese cities, only three met the official air quality standards.
According to the study, northern China has some of the most polluted cities. This is mainly caused by coal-powered industries, including the electricity generation and steel manufacturing. The cities in northern China, which include Beijing and Tianjin, met the air quality standards only on 37 percent of the days in 2013 and the center of Beijing only managed to meet the standards on 20 percent of the days.
This week, the air pollution in Beijing has become even worse and the air monitor at the United States Embassy warned people to stay inside as much as possible, as the air was rated as hazardous.
As air pollution continues to conquer most cities in China, the country is becoming less popular for both tourists and expats. Earlier this month, a survey was released by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, stating half of the companies in China are experiencing difficulties in recruiting and retaining senior executives because of the air pollution. In 2008, the same survey stated that only 19 percent of companies were experiencing difficulties.
Martin Cerullo, managing director at Alexander Mann Solutions for Asia-Pacific, says, “We notice that single expats are more willing to take the step to China because it can benefit their career; however, it is different when there is family involved. This is why we find it harder to recruit for senior management positions.”
The difficulty in recruiting senior executives has led companies to offer higher salaries or bonuses to those who are willing to relocate to China and electronics firm Panasonic has even publicly announced its new policy in the hope to recruit employees easier. Additionally, companies are stocking up on air masks and purifiers, while also encouraging employees to carpool to contribute to improving the air quality in the country.
To Wang Shen, a 36-year old marketing executive, it is not enough. Shen decided to move to New Zealand with her young daughter to escape the poor air in Beijing. She says, “We cannot live in China any longer. In my daughter’s kindergarten, many children have asthma attacks. Respiratory problems in children can be fatal.”
The Chinese population has become increasingly aware of the poor air quality since January 2013, when a stretch of air pollution in northern China resulted into an outrage, forcing officials to allow the media to report on the problem. Although the government acknowledges the problem, environmental scholars say it could take a decade before China will see a notable improvement in the air.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that air pollution has contributed to seven million deaths in 2012 and that approximately 30 percent of those occurred in countries like China and India. The fine particles in the air penetrate into the lungs and the bloodstream, increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. China, the country where air pollution has conquered most cities, is ranked worst in terms of populations affected by poor air quality.
By Diana Herst