China plans clean sweep on dust storms

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<ul><li><p>news</p><p>NATURE | VOL 421 | 9 JANUARY 2003 | 101</p><p>problem. But Prospero thinks it is more like-ly that long-term climate trends are to blame. </p><p>For some researchers, a question markremains over governments willingness toconfront the effects of dust storms on humanhealth. According to literature distributed at the North Carolina meeting, noxiousaerosols kill 1 in 14 people, and pneumonia,often from breathing dirty air, is the leadingcause of death among children in China.Eugene Shinn, a geologist with the US Geological Survey in St Petersburg, Florida,says: The problem keeps getting sweptunder the rug. n</p><p>David CyranoskiChinese researchers at home and abroad arerallying allies around the world to confronta gritty subject that has growing implica-tions for public health and the environ-ment: dust. </p><p>The dust storms, which arise in Chinasnorthwestern plains and normally hit Beijing each spring, have become increasing-ly intense over the past few years. And thecountrys leaders are concerned not just for the health of the capital citys 13 millionresidents, but also about the implications forthe governments pledge to stage a greenOlympic Games there in 2008. </p><p>So China is pouring substantial fundsinto research on the origins and impact of the storms equivalent to tens of millionsof US dollars over the next few years, accord-ing to one leading researchers estimate with agencies and institutions scramblingfor a slice of the action. Dust-storm researchis a golden baby in China everyone wantsto hold it, says Zhanqing Li, who uses satel-lite imaging to study the storms at the Uni-versity of Maryland in College Park.</p><p>Li even predicts that dust-storm researchcould become the first field of modern science in which China assumes clear globalleadership. Last November, the ChineseAcademy of Sciences gathered scientistsfrom nine countries including France,Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States in Beijing to discuss the integration of differ-ent countries research on dust storms. The62 delegates signed up to the Beijing Declara-tion on an International Dust Storm Pro-gram, under which the Chinese Academy ofSciences will formulate the framework for</p><p>the development and implementation of anintegrated scientific research program. </p><p>A ChineseUS workshop on dust stormsand their effects on human health also tookplace in November at North Carolina StateUniversity in Raleigh. It produced an agree-ment on how to study dust storms, fromtheir origins right through to their environ-mental and health impacts, says the meet-ings organizer, Lian Xie, a climate modellerat North Carolina State. The workshop wasinitiated bythe North Carolina chapter of theUS-based Chinese Association for Scienceand Technology and the China Meteorologi-cal Administration, and drew sponsorshipfrom five US government agencies. Chinaregards collaboration with the United Statesas vital particularly because of the lattersimmense satellite-imaging capability. </p><p>Researchers from the two countries dis-cussed common strategies for approachingall aspects of the dust problem. The NorthCarolina meeting highlighted the keeninvolvement of US-based, Chinese-bornresearchers in the subject. Many of us livedthrough dust storms in China, Xie explains.</p><p>Dust storms, as they pass between conti-nents, have been found to contain a cocktailof natural and industrial particulates andaerosols. You get an incredible mix of allkinds of aerosols that you dont see anywhereelse, says Joseph Prospero, an aerosolchemist at the University of Miami.</p><p>In China, meanwhile, many believe thatdesertification which is partly the result of overgrazing and poor land-use policy isa principal cause of the storms increasingintensity. China has already relocated farm-ers in some areas in an attempt to address the</p><p>China plans clean sweep on dust storms</p><p>Indian prime minister pledges to revamp scienceK. S. Jayaraman, BangaloreIndia is to mount a determined effort toattract its scientists home from abroad andto strip its scientific agencies of excessivebureaucracy, under a science policydocument released last week.</p><p>The Science and Technology Policy 2003 which has taken years to produce wasunveiled on 3 January by Prime MinisterAtal Bihari Vajpayee at the Indian ScienceCongress in Bangalore. He appealed toIndias scientific diaspora to return to thecountry to help him realize his vision ofmaking India a developed nation.</p><p>We have to ensure that our scientificinstitutions do not become afflicted with theculture of our government agencies,Vajpayee said. Seniority should not displacemerit; talent should not be suppressed.</p><p>Vajpayee also pledged that thegovernment would make the requiredbudgetary commitment to increase Indianspending on research and development by government and industry to at least2% of the gross domestic product by 2007.Valangiman Ramamurthi, the science andtechnology secretary, claims that this willnot be difficult, as spending has alreadyrisen from 0.8% in 2000 to 1.08% in 2002.</p><p>Ramamurthi adds that the mechanismswill be in place very soon to attract homescientists who have left India. He says thatthe new policy will be rapidly implementedand will give universities and researchinstitutions greater autonomy. </p><p>Government officials say that under thepolicy, science-based ministries will be runby scientists and engineers, and other</p><p>ministries will appoint scientific advisorycommittees. They also say that selecteduniversities and scientific institutions will get money to strengthen their infrastructure.But details of the funding will be left to a taskforce being set up to find ways of encouragingprivate and public investment in research.</p><p>Scientists at the conference wereencouraged by the promises of greaterautonomy and scientific input in decision-making, but were sceptical about pledges ongovernment reform. If the prime ministerthinks de-bureaucratization is needed onlyin science departments, he is wrong, says J. Gowrishankar, a molecular biologist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting andDiagnostics in Hyderabad. It is needed in the finance ministry, which audits thescientific institutes. n</p><p>Choked: the health effects of Beijings annualdust storms remain a clouded issue.</p><p>RE</p><p>UT</p><p>ER</p><p>S</p><p> 2003 Nature Publishing Group</p></li></ul>