'Urban diseases' challenge prospect of 'beautiful China'

Updated: 2012-12-11 21:34

(Xinhua)

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BEIJING - Liu Huixuan was excited when she was offered an internship in Beijing, but after arriving she soon found herself fatigued as a commuter in the metropolis.

Every morning, it takes her more than one hour from where she lives, her friends' home in Chaoyang District, to work in downtown by subway.

"I have to wait before eventually squeezing myself into a train," said the intern.

Liu, a senior university student in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, planned to work in Beijing after graduating, but the "horrible" traffic has puzzled her.

"If I take bus, it will take much longer because of the traffic jams," she said.

According to government figures, Beijing has a population of more than 20 million in a 16,400-square-km area, and over 79.5 percent of them live in the urban area. Overcrowding has brought a series of problems to the city, such as traffic jams.

The number of cars registered in the Chinese capital has passed 5.1 million, and it is still rising.

Despite government efforts in limiting the amount of new cars by car plate control and keeping a certain number of vehicles off the roads by the license plate number, residents are still often stuck in traffic for hours.

According to a survey conducted by the IBM on daily commutes in 2011, Beijing has the second worst traffic jams in the world following Mexico City. Shenzhen, another booming economic city in south China, ranks in third place.

Apart from traffic, Beijing also suffers from poor air quality.

The city's yearly PM 2.5 data, a gauge monitors "fine" particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter, reached 70-80 micrograms per cubic meter, doubling the regulated standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

"The sky always looks grey, and we hardly see the sun," said an old lady surnamed Wang who has lived in Beijing for most of her life.

With the rapid development of China's urbanization, Beijing is not the only city caught with "city diseases."

In Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, residents are often seen exercising wearing mouth masks in parks along the Yellow River, which traverses through the city.

"Days ago when there was no wind, I could not even see the buildings across the river," said 60-year-old Li Wenhu, who jogs every morning.

What people are concerned about is near the top agenda of the Communist Party of China (CPC). At the report to the 18th National Congress of the CPC, Chinese leader Hu Jintao emphasized the importance of ecological progress and advocated building a "beautiful" China.

The report gave ecological progress a more prominent position by incorporating it into the country's overall development plan together with economic, political, cultural and social progress.

Following the report, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) in early December released a comprehensive plan to reduce air pollution, vowing to cut the PM 2.5 intensity by at least 5 percent by 2015 in 13 major areas covering 117 cities.

The country's atmospheric environmental condition remains arduous, as 70 percent of Chinese cities fail to meet new air quality standards, said Zhao Hualin, head of the MEP Department of Pollution Prevention and Control.

"The air quality is an issue directly related to and most concerned by people," said Zhao, adding the plan's fundamental goal is to protect people's health and ensure their environmental rights and interests.

Experts believe curing "city diseases" and building a "beautiful China" is a systematic project from multiple aspects, such as urban layout optimization, population control, green production, energy saving and emissions reduction.

Hao Jiming, director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Tsinghua University, said "fine management" is required.

"Detailed measures should take place, such as further developing public transportation, optimizing bus routes, strengthening management of construction vehicles in urban areas and forbidding straw burning during harvest season near cities," said Hao.

Apart from government efforts, Li Xiaosong, deputy director with Beijing's traffic management committee, also urged residents' participation to ease urban problems.

"Among all factors that trigger traffic congestion, people's undisciplined behaviors account for 20 to 30 percent," said Li. "I hope everyone makes a contribution to building a 'beautiful city'."

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