On Monday, the Chinese capital and a large region of the country’s north were hit by the worst sandstorm in a decade, causing hundreds of flights to be canceled.
The skyscrapers in central Beijing appeared to fall out of sight in the dust and sand. Traffic disrupted and more than 400 flights from the capital’s two main airports were canceled, amid heavy winds and poor visibility.
The National Meteorological Center said Monday’s storm had developed in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia, with schools advised to close and adding bus service to reduce residents’ exposure to harsh conditions.
Such storms used to occur regularly in the spring as sand blew from the western deserts towards the east, affecting as far away as northern Japan.
The intensive cultivation of trees and shrubs in fragile areas has reduced impacts on other parts of the country in recent years, but the expansion of cities and industries, along with strip mining and overgrazing, has put constant pressure on the environment across China. With a mixture of desert and grassy steppe, Inner Mongolia is particularly vulnerable to severe weather brought on by resource exploitation.
Similar to COVID-19, which is believed to have spread from bats and other wildlife, the sandstorms are a reminder of the need to respect nature, said Zhu Jinfeng, Secretary-General of the China Group for Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Corporation.
“Together with the epidemic, this is another big lesson that we must learn and we must change our behavior,” Chu said.
The National Meteorological Center has predicted that sand and dust will affect 12 provinces and regions, from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast and the eastern port city of Tianjin.
The center said in a post on its website: “This is the most severe sandstorm weather our country has seen in 10 years, and it covers the widest area.”
It was not clear if the storm was related to the recent general deterioration in air quality despite efforts to end the suffocating smog in Beijing.
The ruling Communist Party has pledged to cut carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. Environmentalists say China needs to do more to reduce its dependence on coal, which has made it the world’s largest exporter of climate change gases.