The world where I am: “A city up in smoke”

Crop fires in east China are clogging the air with smoke as farmers burn off the remains of the wheat harvest. Bo Ge sent us this report from the city of Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province.

XUZHOU June 13, 2007 – Today was an unusual day. When I woke up this morning my eyes were watering. My throat was dry and sore, and I smelt heavy smoke in the air. “They are doing it again,” I murmured. I drew the curtains and was shocked at what I saw: the city looked as if it were up in smoke. The whole city was enveloped in heavy shroud and the air had a strong smell of burning.

I live in Xuzhou, in east China’s Jiangsu province. This time each year the farmers burn wheat stubble in the fields. Today is the fifth day of burning and the most serious day so far. Out in the street, cars are moving slowly with their headlights on because the visibility is only about 10 metres. Some people are wearing masks and you can hear people complaining about it almost everywhere. Doctors were saying on the local news that they are receiving increased numbers of respiratory complaints, and suggested that residents keep their windows shut.

This photograph was taken inside a room in a house in Jiangsu province, and posted on a local internet bulletin board.

The smoke comes from the farmland around the city. In the evenings, the farmers begin to burn the stubble – the stalks of wheat that are left after the harvest — and the fires last for several hours. But why have they been doing this for so many years? Mainly because it means the farmers don’t have to spend time and labour removing the stub from the fields, and the ashes as an organic fertiliser for the soil. The Chinese central government has issued a prohibition on stubble-burning, but unfortunately both the local government and the farmers have turned a blind eye to it. One farmer, in another city in Jiangsu Province, died after he tried to contain an uncontrolled fire in a field.

Xuzhou is not the only city afflicted by the smoke. China’s capital Beijing has been reported as covered in smoke from neighbouring provinces such as Hebei. Much of northern and central China, including the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan, Hebei, Shangdong, Shanxi, are polluted with the same smoke. This smoke pollution problem has been a hot topic on some internet bulletin boards (BBS), with many netizens expressing their complaints, suggestions and disappointments. But my concern is simple: I just want to wake up tomorrow morning without watery eyes and a sore throat.

Tell us about the world where you are. What’s the environment like where you live? Send us your stories: [email protected]

Ge Bo lives in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province. He has worked as a middle-school English teacher and works in the Training Department of a European company.

Special thanks to Wang Hui, Philip, vik, evaporate, caiyonghong and满城春色, who contributed information for this report.

Homepage photo by J. Samuel. B.