Sandstorms choke China

Sandstorms whipping across China
shrouded cities in an unhealthy cloud of sand and grit, with winds carrying the
pollution outside the mainland as far as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It was the latest sign of the effects
of desertification: Overgrazing, deforestation, urban sprawl and drought have
expanded deserts in the country’s north and west. The shifting sands have
gradually encroached onto populated areas and worsened sandstorms that strike
cities, particularly in the spring.

Winds blowing from the northwest
have been sweeping sand across the country since Saturday, affecting Xinjiang
in the far west all the way to Beijing in the country’s east. The sand and dust
were carried to parts of southern China and even to cities in Taiwan, 1600
miles away from Inner Mongolia where much of the pollution originated.

The sandstorm in Taiwan, an island
100 miles away from the mainland, forced people to cover their faces to avoid
breathing in the grit that can cause chest discomfort and respiratory problems
even in healthy people. Drivers complained their cars were covered in a layer
of black soot in just 10 minutes.

In Hong Kong, environmental
protection officials said pollution levels were climbing as the sandstorm moved
south. Twenty elderly people sought medical assistance for shortness of breath,
Hong Kong’s radio RTHK reported.

The Hong Kong government urged
people to stay indoors and encouraged schools to cancel sports events.

The latest sandstorm was expected
to hit South Korea today, said Kim Seung-bum of the Korea Meteorological
Administration. The sandstorm that raked across China over the weekend caused
the worst “yellow dust” haze in South Korea since 2005, and
authorities issued a rare nationwide dust advisory.

Grit from Chinese sandstorms has
been found to travel as far as the western United States.


A sand storm hits central Beijing Monday. Tons of sands carried by strong winds have affected more than 270 million people in 16 provinces since Friday.
Photo: UPI