|OECD Paints Bleak Picture of Pollution in China|
By John Vidal
July 17, 2007
Rubbish collects along a boom on a polluted Beijing canal. Photograph: AP
Hundreds of millions of people fall ill every year or die prematurely from air
and water pollution caused by China's breakneck economic growth, one of the
world's leading economic thinktanks has concluded following an 18-month investigation.
The study, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) at China's request, draws on work by the government, the
Chinese academy of sciences and the World Bank to spell out the scale and
severity of the ecological crisis now engulfing the country, poisoning its
people and holding it back economically.
It says that as many as 300 million people are drinking contaminated water every
day, and 190 million are suffering from water-related illnesses each year. If
air pollution is not controlled, it says, there will be 600,000 premature deaths
in urban areas and 20 million cases of respiratory illness a year within 15 years.
China's water quality causes the researchers great concern. One third of the
length of all China's rivers are now "highly polluted" as are 75% of its major
lakes and 25% of all its coastal waters. Nearly 30,000 children die from
diarrhoea due to polluted water each year.
"A majority of the water flowing through China's urban areas is unsuitable for
drinking or fishing," the report says.
Although China is the world's fourth largest economy, growing 10% a year and
closing rapidly on the US, Japan and Germany, its environmental standards are
often closer to those in some of the poorest countries in the world, says the
report. More than 17,000 towns have no sewage works at all and the human waste
from nearly a billion people is barely collected or treated. Nearly 70% of the
rural population have no access to safe sanitation.
China has tried to improve its air quality, but it has not invested enough to
keep up with the flood of people to its cities, many of which have some of the
worst pollution in the world. The burning of more than 1.97bn tonnes of the
dirtiest coal each year is costing the economy the equivalent of between 3% and
7% of GDP, or £8-15bn, a year, according to research cited in the report. While
no specific figure is given for the overall cost of China's pollution, in 2004
it was thought to be in the region of £32bn.
"A healthy economy needs a healthy environment," said Mario Amano, the deputy
secretary-general of the OECD said in Beijing today. The OECD is a grouping of
the world's 30 richest countries.
"The development of China has been accompanied by industrial and mining
accidents, and severe ecological damage such as deforestation, desertification
and soil erosion," the report says. It estimates that 2.64m sq km, or 27.5% of
the country's landmass is now becoming desertified. "Some 400 million people are
affected by extensive soil salination and blowing sand. This is leading to
villages becoming buried, the reduced life of irrigation works and widescale
Projections of water demand suggest that China may not be able to continue at
its present speed of growth for much longer. Much of the country already suffers
from water shortages, but the Chinese academy of sciences expects water demand
to increase by nearly 50% in the next 40 years. Industry's share of this is
expected to grow from 16% to 41%.
Low environmental standards are now making people wary of buying Chinese goods,
Lorents Lorentsen, OECD's environmental director said. "If you have a reputation
for being a polluted country, then you have a bad trademark abroad. It's very
hard to sell pharmaceuticals, to sell food and feed from a country that has a
reputation for being polluted."Printable version Send to a friend Share Clip
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