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. Pollution in Chinese cities 'extremely severe': minister

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 23, 2009
Air pollution in China's cities remains very serious, state media on Thursday quoted a minister as saying, amid an ongoing battle to clean up the skies in the world's largest coal-consuming nation.

"There is the potential for serious air pollution incidents to happen, and the air environment situation is extremely severe," environmental protection minister Zhou Shengxian told parliament, the official People's Daily said.

"The difficulties in managing air pollution are intensifying, and environmental regulations as well as protection systems need to be further strengthened," he said Wednesday.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal and its appetite for the cheap fuel is growing as its economy expands, according to the Energy Bulletin, a website that monitors global energy supplies.

In 2006, the World Bank said that 16 out of 20 of the world's worst polluted cities were in China.

A recent report by the state Xinhua news agency, citing a survey conducted in November last year in 320 cities, said the average air quality in two out of five Chinese cities ranged from "polluted" to "hazardous".

Zhou said car exhaust fumes also played a large role in air pollution in the country's big and medium-sized cities, the report said.

China's worst air pollution was concentrated in the Yangtze River delta, which includes Shanghai, and the Pearl River delta -- the manufacturing hub in the south of the country that is home to Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Air pollution in the capital Beijing, nearby Tianjin and surrounding Hebei province is also bad, he said.

But Zhou said there had been improvement in some cities in China, without listing any specific locations.

The China Daily reported at the start of the month that Beijing's air quality was improving as a result of post-Olympics traffic control measures that had seen about 900,000 cars taken off the roads every weekday.

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