Authorities across China are deploying giant mist-cannons in a bid to reduce air pollution, as dangerous levels of smog once more engulf northern cities.
The mist cannons, a large machine mounted on a truck that sprays nebulized water droplets, are aimed at trapping and sinking dust particles in the air of Beijing and other worst-affected cities, official media reported.
"Mist cannon trucks are being used to spray in the mornings ... during smoggy days," the Global Times newspaper reported.
However, it also quoted experts as saying that the effectiveness on cities engulfed with smog was doubtful, while the impact on the most-hazardous form of microscopic dust pollution, PM2.5, is still unknown.
Wuxi-based environmental activist Wu Lihong told RFA that the mist cannons are unlikely to have much impact on a city-wide smog.
"I can't see much impact from these mist-cannons at all, personally," Wu said. "They are just there for show, but they're not much use at cleaning up smog."
"They have a range of about 200 meters, and they're used to clear dust out of the air near construction sites," Wu said. "But smog extends upwards into the atmosphere by 2,000-3,000 meters, so how can they possibly clear the dust up to that height?"
"This is a cosmetic measure that does nothing to address the root causes of pollution," he said.
Wu said many local governments routinely fake pollution statistics in a bid to meet environmental clean-up targets, making existing laws difficult to enforce.
"Local officials protect [polluting industries] because they derive benefits from it themselves," he said. "When there's an inspection from higher up, they switch on the environmental protection equipment, and then they shut it down again after they've gone."
"They don't care about the planet; they are just concerned with doing well for themselves. For them, whether China is polluted or not has nothing to do with them."
Meanwhile, Zhengzhou-based environmentalist Cui Sheng said the mist cannons are only effective when used for temporary alleviation of dust and smog, and are being used to mask the seriousness of air pollution by local governments.
"These misting sprays produce a slight, temporary alleviation of particulate pollution, and they are often placed in the vicinity of air pollution monitoring stations," Cui said.
"They interfere with the readings and the data produced from monitoring," he said.
'Stricter than ever'
China's cabinet, the State Council, on Monday released details of its five-year plan to address widespread pollution of the country's air, soil and water, launching a campaign to reduce PM2.5 concentrations by 18 percent in the worst-polluted cities by 2020.
Vice minister of environmental protection Zhao Yingmin vowed a "stricter-than-ever" approach to tackling pollution, including eight obligatory targets.
But Beijing-based activist Chen Liwen said the government needs to target pollution before it is produced for the plans to work.
"Most of their efforts are directed at cleaning up existing pollution, and power is only passed to the environmental protection agencies after it has been produced," Chen said.
She said too many departments are involved in setting and enforcing environmental policy at present.
"The most progressive way of dealing with it is through prevention, and the environmental protection agencies have very little power to speak up at this stage," she said.
Many thousands die
Experts estimate that some 350,000 to 500,000 people die prematurely per year from air pollution in China alone.
Wu cited a recent report blaming falling male fertility in China on pollution.
"Pollution has already started to affect people's health ... with figures showing an increase in malignant tumors, leukemia, and lung and liver cancer," he said.
"It also affects people's ability to reproduce."
Red smog alerts were issued last week for Linfen city in Shanxi province and Hebei's Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Langfang, Xingtai, and Handan cities in the northern province of Hebei.
Beijing also issued an orange-alert smog warning, effectively ordering schools to cancel outdoor activities and suspending construction projects until last weekend.
Beijing residents woke up to thick smog last weekend, with visibility of just 500 meters in some areas, and pollution readings climbing over the 500 mark, the most hazardous to human health.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung and Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.