China Blanketed by Huge Dust Storm

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Dust and sand swept up by howling winds is blanketing Beijing and much of Northern China in the region's worst such storm in many years. Alex Chadwick speaks with Dermot O'Gorman of the World Wildlife Fund about how the storm looks from on the ground, and its origins in the desert areas to the west of the capital.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

While China's President is here in the U.S., he's missing a huge dust storm that's choking Beijing. The storm is spreading, reaching into South Korea and Japan. There are health warnings that people should not go outside.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Beijing we've reached Dermot O'Gorman, he's with the World Wildlife Fund. Dermot, thank you for being with us, and how does this storm appear?

Mr. DERMOT O'GORMAN (Chinese Representative, World Wildlife Fund): Well, Beijing has really woke up to find the city covered in a film of dust and sand for the last couple of days. Cars, the plants, the pavements were all covered in this dust. You could even see your footprints as you walked along the pavement. I mean it was that thick.

CHADWICK: I read a piece from a Chinese newspaper that said it estimates there are 300,000 tons of dust and sand just in Beijing from this storm?

Mr. O'GORMAN: I certainly wouldn't be surprised. It's like driving home in the afternoon was like traveling in a fog except it was brown from all the sand and dust. The car headlights lit up as the--with all the dust particles in the air. It was--it was really quite thick.

CHADWICK: Do you taste it and smell it?

Mr. O'GORMAN: You can, you can certainly taste it. In fact, you find everybody in offices and stuff like clearing their throat the whole time and coughing because it's--the dust is just finding its way into everywhere. A lot of, a lot of people on the street, particularly cyclists, are wearing sort of facemasks to keep the--the dust out.

CHADWICK: Now, these storms are a regular feature, they come down from the dry northern plain, but they're much worse this year than they have been in many many years. Is this do you think, a sign that China's environmental problems are worsening?

Mr. O'GORMAN: Well, the Chinese government has spent a lot of effort over the last few years to try and put plantations into some areas in the northwest to try and stabilize the areas where this dust is coming from. I think the problem originates from the unsustainable land-use practices. I think the question is whether things like climate change are going to make these occurrences more regular or worse.

CHADWICK: Dermot, I have seen pictures of the traffic in China and read that Beijing is just really congested and quite a mess. Are there fewer people on the streets, are people actually staying home? Kids staying home from school?

Mr. O'GORMAN: Certainly the--there's less people on the streets. Taxi drivers have sort of reported better business, because people don't want to stand in bus queues to, to get on, to get on the bus. But it--you know Beijing has a thousand new cars hit the, hit the road every, every day so, you know, traffic in Beijing is, is bad and getting worse so-but, I think, a lot of, a lot of--I certainly saw no children out in the last couple of days playing in, in parks and stuff like that because of the dust.

CHADWICK: Any idea when this is going to end?

Mr. O'GORMAN: Well, today was, today was a little better, and, but tonight we've got some strong winds coming in from the northwest again, so we may wake up to find some more dust if--dust has covered the city tomorrow.

CHADWICK: Dermot O'Gorman, country representative for the World Wildlife Fund in China, he's based in Beijing. Dermot thanks.

Mr. O'GORMAN: My pleasure, Alex.

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