Feb. 28 - Hebei province, home to China's most polluted cities, feels the economic burn as it destroys factories to ease smog choking neighboring Beijing ahead of the annual parliament session. Maxim Duncan reports.
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Welcome to Hebei, Beijing's dirty neighbour.
The province, which surrounds the capital, produces a quarter of China's steel, and much of its cement, glass and ceramics.
It's now home to seven of the country's 10 most polluted cities, and creates much of the toxic smog that has choked Beijing.
The provincial capital Shijiazhuang regularly records the worst air quality in the whole of the county, and residents like Cui Meiying are running out of patience.
(SOUNDBITE)(Mandarin with English voiceover) 58-YEAR-OLD RETIREE CUI MEIYING SAYING:
"The pollution is terrible and I feel very uncomfortable. Sometimes if I don't wear my face mask my throat hurts a lot. The pollution is a real headache, and I hope the government sorts it out as soon as possible"
Part of the answer is to demolish factories like these cement plants on the outer reaches of the city.
The central government has ordered Hebei to slash steel and cement production capacity by 40 percent by 2017 to ease pollution.
But for farmers like Yang Yingshu, it will be hard to see the winding down of an industry once the backbone of the local economy.
(SOUNDBITE)(Mandarin with English voiceover) 66-YEAR-OLD FARMER YANG YINGSHU SAYING:
"Now there won't be so much pollution. The crops and other things will improve and all the mess with the farmland will be sorted out. So in this way we will benefit. But the people from the countryside around here all used to go there for work, otherwise all they have is farming. Now there's nowhere for them to work. This is a problem"
Hebei's provincial government has long relied on heavy industry to provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of its rural poor.
But Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaigner Huang Wei says shutting plants is a sacrifice they have to make.
(SOUNDBITE)(Mandarin with English voiceover) GREENPEACE CLIMATE AND ENERGY CAMPAIGNER HUANG WEI SAYING:
"In the short term, it will be very painful, but in the long run, this model of development will both improve the region's environment and protect the health of its residents"
Huang expects air pollution will be a major issue in the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress parliament which starts next week.
Hebei's residents will be watching the developments closely.
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