Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities

Smog levels in the northern industrial region of China have reached epidemic proportions. Residents of China’s capital were wearing face masks and using air purifiers to try to avoid heavy pollution blanketing the city. Other residents are giving up the fight and joining a rush to become “smog refugees”. By the calculations of Greenpeace East Asia, the smog “red alert” affects 460 million people, with about 200 million people living in areas where the air was polluted more than 10 times above the guideline set by the World Health Organization.

Northern China has been shrouded in almost record pollution all week, disrupting flights, traffic and shipping, and closing factories and schools. Searches for plane tickets from Beijing to southern China quadrupled this week. Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China’s northern industrial heartland, especially during winter, when energy demand, much of it met by coal, rises sharply. Living standards are increasing, creating demand for even more power and coal remains subsidized.

While China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection reported improvements in air quality in some cities, the red alerts are expected to stay in effect for about a week because of weather conditions that are preventing the pollution from dissipating.

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