Special Reports
Pollution facts suppressed by China

By Mary-Anne Toy
The Sydney Morning Herald
July 5, 2007

AdvertisementTHE World Bank reluctantly censored a report revealing that 750,000
people died prematurely every year in China from pollution-related disease
because Beijing officials feared it would provoke "social unrest".

Almost a third of the report, Cost of Pollution in China, produced in
co-operation with several Chinese Government ministries, was cut, including a
detailed map showing where the deaths were concentrated.

China's State Environment Protection Agency and the Health Ministry asked the
World Bank to cut the calculations of premature deaths from the report together
with the map when a draft was completed late last year, the Financial Times
reported, citing World Bank advisers and Chinese officials.

"The World Bank was told it could not publish this information. It was too
sensitive and could cause social unrest," one adviser to the study said.

The report has yet to be officially launched, but the version omitting the most
sensitive sections was released at a conference in Beijing in March.

Chinese officials at the March conference, however, did mention the figure of
750,000 premature deaths in their verbal presentations, even after they had
insisted that the figure be removed from the published report.

The World Bank previously reported that 16 of the world's 20 most polluted
cities were in China, with estimates of the number of deaths from China's
pollution about 400,000.

The new World Bank report found the figure was almost double that, with most
deaths caused by air pollution in large cities. Indoor air pollution, mainly
from inhaling fumes from coal-burning stoves and cooking oil, were responsible
for about 300,000 of the premature deaths. About 60,000 premature deaths were
attributed to diarrhoea and cancers caused by polluted water in mainly rural areas.

The published conference version of the report said the health costs of air and
water pollution in China amounted to about 4.3 per cent of its gross domestic
product. The non-health impacts were about 1.5 per cent of GDP, making the total
cost of air and water pollution in China about 5.8 per cent of GDP. "China's
poor are disproportionately affected by the environmental health burden, and
only six provinces bear 50 per cent of the effects of acid rain in the country,"
the published report says.

Yesterday, the World Bank's Beijing office said it was still negotiating with
the Chinese authorities over a final version of the report.

"This is a joint research project with the Government and the findings on the
economic costs of pollution are still under review," the bank said in a
statement. "The final report, due out soon, will be a series of papers arising
from all the research on the issue."

Stung by rising public anger about the country's polluted waterways, soil and
air, Beijing has made environmental issues a priority.

China launched its first national action plan for global warming this year.
Although it was criticised for not going far enough and rejecting mandatory
emission caps, a priority for the Government is to maintain economic growth to
ensure social stability.


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