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Chinese premier warns of environmental toll

By Staff
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BEIJING, Apr 19: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said dust storms that whipped Beijing and northern China in recent days were a sharp reminder of the severity of the country's environmental problems.

Wen told an environmental meeting in Beijing that China needed to intensify efforts to rein in pollution and environmental destruction, the Xinhua news agency reported.

''The succession of dust storms is a warning to us,'' Wen was quoted as saying on Monday. ''Ecological destruction and environmental pollution are creating massive economic losses and gravely threatening people's lives and health.'' A sand storm struck the Chinese capital on Monday covering homes, streets and cars in brown dust and leaving the skies murky yellow as northern China suffered the worst pollution in years.

The Chinese Central Meteorological Station estimated that the storms had enveloped one eighth of the country over recent days.

Two workers died several days ago in ferocious storms in the western province of Gansu, Xinhua said.

Strong winds overnight cleared away the dust over Beijing which is trying to clean up its environment as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympics.

But so far this year the city has recorded 56 days with blue skies -- 16 fewer than for the same time last year, Xinhua reported.

Wen said China has met its economic targets for previous years but fallen short of pollution control goals. In 2005 the country's sulphur dioxide emissions were 27 per cent higher than 2000 levels, although the government had set a goal of reducing emissions by 10 per cent over that time, he said.

Wen ordered local governments to release information about energy use and pollution output every six months.

An editorial in the People's Daily -- the ruling Communist Party's chief newspaper -- on Wednesday said that despite improvement in some cities, the nation's environmental degradation ''remains extremely severe.'' ''Problems built up over a long time have not been resolved, new ones are emerging, and environmental pollution is dramatically increasing,'' it said.

REUTERS

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