A foreigner wearing a mask stands in a pavilion in Beijing's Jingshan Park on Wednesday. The pavilion, which provides the best view of the Forbidden City, suffered from low visibility as a sandstorm hit Beijing after days of heavy smog.
Dusty conditions have dropped from a decade earlier: data
Sand and dust spread across North China's Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region on Wednesday after heavy smog has been blanketing the region for the past four days.
Further work in wind-breaking and sand-fixing is needed, but China's efforts and achievements on the matter should not be ignored either, an environmental analyst noted.
The average level of slightly larger PM10 particles topped 1,988 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing on Wednesday, while that of PM2.5 reached 193 micrograms per cubic meter in the urban area, according to data from the Beijing municipal environmental monitoring center.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Beijing reached 504 at noon Wednesday, suggesting that the capital city is under severe pollution. The AQI in nearby Hebei cities such as Zhangjiakou and Tangshan also exceeded 500.
Sand and dust will continue to blanket the region from Wednesday to Thursday, according to a statement sent to the Global Times by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
The National Meteorological Center issued a blue alert Tuesday night in most parts of northern China, inducing Beijing, Hebei, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The blue alert, the first of its kind this year, has sparked online discussions. The hashtag "Beijing sandstorm" has garnered more than 20 million views as of press time.
"I went out for a class, but became a 'sand man' as sand was all over my body and face," Sina Weibo user jhmaaa said.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau suggested that children, senior citizens and patients stay indoors, and other people should avoid outdoor activities as much as possible.
Though visibility was low in Beijing on Wednesday, nearby highways remained open.
The sandstorm was triggered by artificial and natural causes and cannot be completely avoided, Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Sandstorms were more frequent in Beijing a decade ago, and have lessened thanks to the country's efforts in wind-breaking and sand-fixing.
The China Meteorological Center said sandstorms have been decreasing in Beijing since the 1950s. From 2001-10, dusty conditions lasted an average of seven days a year, but since 2010 that has dropped to three.
The Beijing-Tianjin Sandstorm Source Control Project started in 2000, and has created 6.9 million mu (460,000 hectares) of forest shelterbelts around the two municipalities.
Between 2011 and 2015, China invested 89.8 billion yuan (.3 billion) for the conservation of natural forest resources, and placed 1.08 million square kilometers of natural forests under effective protection.
"China's work in returning the grain plots to forests and pastures should be seen and further work is required," Ma noted.
"It is not proper to deny the efforts and blame each other when a sandstorm occurs."