China has relaxed a coal ban in northern cities designed to reduce air pollution amid a growing outcry from people left without a reliable energy supply as winter sets in.
In a “double urgent” letter dated Monday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection told authorities in 28 cities to relax the coal ban at places where the conversion process had not been completed, People’s Daily reported on Thursday.
“Keeping people warm in winter should be the number one principle,” the letter said, adding that the ministry would pay special attention to the issue during future inspections.
It was unclear whether the easing of the ban would apply to other cities, but the ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
But while coal has been banned in villages and communities, many residents have yet to be provided with an alternative.
According to recent media reports, pupils at schools in some rural areas whose coal-fired heaters had been dismantled were forced to study outside – as it was warmer than inside – or run around to generate body heat.
The education ministry said it had ordered local governments to resolve the heating problem immediately after the reports prompted an outburst of criticism on social media.
“The children’s [suffering] has indeed hurt our hearts badly,” ministry spokeswoman Xu Mei said at a news briefing on Wednesday, according to Xinhua.