The other oil spill

A firefighter drowns while trying to clean up a spill -- this one in Dalian, China.

While the efforts in the Gulf of Mexico to stem the flow of oil are dominating the world's headlines, another major oil spill is happening off the busy port of Dalian, in China.

China's largest-ever reported oil spill began a week ago when a pipeline operated by the China National Petroleum Company exploded. Details of the incident have predictably been few and far between, but it is thought that the explosion was caused by an injection of desulpheriser into the pipeline after a tanker had finished unloading. The pipeline has since been repaired and has started operating again.

Again, details of quite how much oil was released are not precise, but China Central Television has reported today that an estimated 1,500 tonnes of oil has been spilled, or roughly 400,000 gallons (compared with the 94 million thought to have escaped so far into the Gulf of Mexico).

Officials have warned of a "severe threat" to the coastline and sealife. A clean-up operation has begun, but has been marred by the death of Zhang Liang (above, left), a firefighter who drowned in the oil.

The Associated Press reports that clean-up workers have been using "chopsticks and their bare hands" to remove the oil from beaches. Meanwhile, the agency also reports that state media said 2,000 soldiers, 40 oil-skimming boats and hundreds of fishing boats were helping with the cleanup.

Worse, Greenpeace is reporting that beaches have not been closed and that children are playing in the oil. A spokesperson for Greenpeace China said:

Greenpeace was . . . surprised to see that the beaches have not been closed to visitors and lack any warning signs. As a result, locals and visitors unaware of the extent of the oil spill were playing in the water with their kids, risking exposure to petroleum.

Although the scale of the Gulf spill is so much greater, it is being tackled with professional equipment and armies of volunteers. The response to the Dalian spill suffers from poor co-ordination and equipment, and suggests that the recovery for the fishing and tourism industries in the area is likely to be just as arduous as for the people of Louisiana.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.