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Beijing Strives to Improve Air Quality as Games Draw Near

When Li Jingmin drove to work on Monday, the Beijing resident found he had arrived at his destination 10 minutes earlier than usual.

His early arrival was due to it being the first day when half of the government's motor vehicles were kept off the roads, in line with a traffic ban issued by the Beijing Municipal Government.

"Between June 23 and July 19, only half of the 22,800 vehicles used by all-level party organs, governments and public institutions under the Beijing administration will be allowed to use the road," it stated.

The ban was among the latest pre-Olympic drives to ease the capital's traffic congestion, and more importantly, to improve air quality.

Other traffic bans include an even-odd system based on license plate numbers that will keep vehicles off the road on alternate days between July 20 and September 20 and a suspension of 70 percent of government motor vehicles during that period of time.

"This will definitely bring inconvenience when my wife and I have to turn to the subway or a car pool when my car is banned," Li said. "But it is totally understandable because air quality will become better when cars become less."

In a city where one-third of the air pollution is from vehicle exhaust, the bans are of critical importance in hosting a "Green Olympics."

"Thanks to the bans, vehicle emissions during the Olympic Games are expected to drop by 63 percent," said Du Shaozhong, Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau deputy chief.

In addition to curbing the pollution of the city's 3.3 million vehicles, Beijing has taken other measures. These include relocating the city's major steel makers and prohibiting neighboring provinces from burning straw.

"We have the confidence and capacity to provide good air quality for the Beijing Olympics," Du said.

His confidence does not seem out of nowhere.

Statistics showed air quality in Beijing had improved for nine straight years since its Olympic bid in 1998. Major air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, have decreased by 10 to 60 percent.

"China has made achievements in the past five years what it took the Europe 20 to 25 years to achieve in terms of the air quality improvement," said Ivo Allegrini, head of the Institute for Atmospheric Pollution of the Research National Council in Italy.

The Beijing Olympic Games take place on August 8-24, followed by the Paralympics September 6-17. About 500,000 foreigners are expected to attend.

A couple of days ago, China's Vice President Xi Jinping ordered strengthening efforts in improving the environment and air quality and living up to the promise of sound air quality during the Olympics.

The government has officially included foreigners in a 12 member expert panel on air quality during the Games. Such a make up would ensure the authority and transparency in air quality monitoring and forecasting during the Games.

(Xinhua News Agency June 24, 2008)

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