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China denies pollution death toll

22nd July 2007

The Chinese government has denied reports from the World Bank that hundreds of thousands of its citizens die prematurely every year from the effects of pollution.

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Zhou Jian, vice minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said the estimates, produced following a survey in cooperation with the Chinese government, were 'baseless'.

The World Bank survey estimated that roughly 460,000 people die prematurely each year from pollutants in the air and water, based on the costs incurred by such deaths and an assumption about the economic loss which is implied by a premature death.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Beijing had already asked the bank not to publicise the estimates for fear they would spark social unrest.

Social awareness of environmental health issues is on the rise in China, with protests related to pollutants in the countries skies, lakes and rivers, on the rise across the country.

The government has set itself the target of cutting major industrial pollutants by 10% between 2006 and 2010, but so far is not on track to meet that goal.

The survey implies that about 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water.

Zhou said the impact of environment on health was a "very complex scientific issue" and that it was impossible to estimate exactly what constituted a premature death in this context.

"I don't dare conclude that any country can clearly and accurately say that because of environmental problems, or because of pollution problems, that people's lives are cut by a certain amount, that they are made sick or even die," he said.

"I don't think that data exists ... I think the World Bank report lacks a precise, scientific foundation, regardless of how many people it says die in China because of pollution."

The World Bank report estimates the health costs from premature deaths associated with outdoor air pollution at 394 billion yuan ($51.8 billion). With each life valued at 1 million yuan, that works out at a death toll of 394,000.

The study puts the cost of deaths from diarrhoea and cancer caused by drinking polluted water at 66 billion yuan, pointing to 66,000 premature deaths a year.

US Democratic congressman Barney Frank has called on World Bank President Robert Zoellick to release the mortality figures the congressman said were omitted from a draft bank report on the effects of pollution in China.

 


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