China should free up its data on yellow sand
After I wrote about the "black storm" in China's Taklamakan desert last week, a reader informed me of a local Chinese expression that means "the spread of the desert sand drives people away." Desertification is apparently becoming a serious problem in the Chinese hinterland.
Dust whipped up from China's arid regions apparently began reaching Japan around late Sunday. This was the season's first blast of yellow sand, an unwelcome harbinger of spring.
Western Japan was expected to be engulfed in the spreading dust Monday. In areas experiencing dry weather, the sky may turn hazy.
Unwelcome as it is, the phenomenon has long been a typical feature of spring. Also called tsuchifuru in Japanese, it is a seasonal subject in haiku poetry. A modern haiku by Tomon goes: "In tsuchifuru/ people come and go/ as in ancient times."
In the modern world, there is nothing poetic or graceful about yellow sand. It soils laundry, clings to one's skin and sometimes disrupts airport flight arrivals and departures. The gritty dust simply makes life more miserable.
Even in Beijing, yellow sand was apparently less severe in the past than it is today. Kenkichi Yamamoto, a literary critic who visited the Chinese capital about 30 years ago, wrote fondly: "Everything looked as if it was coated with a yellow film, and the effect was soft."
But throughout Northeast Asia today, the once-poetic yellow sand is becoming a "weather-related calamity" that could cause health damage.
Last week, Japan's Environment Ministry Web site began providing information on yellow sand as observed in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.
But China, the home of this seasonal phenomenon, treats weather information as a state secret and refuses to disclose it.
This reduces the accuracy of yellow sand forecasts.
There is also a Chinese expression that means the opposite of "the spread of the desert sand drives people away" and is used as a slogan for the greening of deserts.
This is no time for China to be withholding information from its neighbors who are trying to find ways to combat yellow sand.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 3(IHT/Asahi: March 4,2008)