Indefensible smog response

Updated: 2014-02-17 07:56

(China Daily)

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With air pollution increasingly compro-mising the quality of people's lives, the lack of action by local governments in response to the heavy smog at the weekend is being widely criticized.

This weekend many people celebrated Lantern Festival, which marks the end of Spring Festival, by setting off fireworks. According to Beijing's air pollution control rules, fireworks should be banned when the air is heavily polluted. However, the capital's government did nothing to prevent the fireworks.

Statistics from the Ministry of Environmental Protection show that airborne PM2.5 particles increased sharply in the four hours from 6 to 11 pm on Friday evening in the 161 cities monitored. PM 2.5 particles reached 150 micrograms per square meter in 57 cities, including Beijing, which meant severe air pollution.

Government employees are enjoying their days off. That may be one of the reasons why the municipal government did not issue any heavy smog warnings and why it did not take action to stop residents from setting off fireworks.

The government may argue that the regulations are there for residents to abide by and they should abstain from setting off fireworks when the air is heavily polluted.

But governance can never be as simple as just making rules, especially in China, where the majority of residents are yet to develop the awareness to abide by rules. Penalties for violation of rules are needed to cultivate such awareness.

It was naive and absurd for the government to expect residents to voluntarily abstain from their traditional fireworks.

Beijing government leaders and leaders of other cities have time and again expressed their resolve to tackle the problem of air pollution. But their inaction in the face of the heaviest air pollution in a month flies in face of their own promises and their own credibility.

If they really mean what they say, they should have had measures in place to deal with the possibility that residents would set off fireworks when the air was heavily polluted. They should also have been ready to cut the number of vehicles on roads by alternating the last figure of plate numbers as required by the rules.

The sky will be clear again when the wind blows the smog away on Monday, but we wonder if the Beijing government will do anything to regain their credibility.