Richard McGregor reports from Beijing on a new World Bank study: 750,000 a year killed by Chinese pollution (Financial Times, July 3). There are two parts to the story: (1) the deaths, and (2) the suppression of the numbers:
Beijing engineered the removal of nearly a third of a World Bank report on pollution in China because of concerns that findings on premature deaths could provoke “social unrest”.
The report, produced in co-operation with Chinese government ministries over several years, found about 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year, mainly from air pollution in large cities....
Missing from this report are the research project’s findings that high air-pollution levels in Chinese cities is leading to the premature deaths of 350,000-400,000 people each year. A further 300,000 people die prematurely each year from exposure to poor air indoors, according to advisers, but little discussion of this issue survived in the report because it was outside the ambit of the Chinese ministries which sponsored the research.
Another 60,000-odd premature deaths were attributable to poor-quality water, largely in the countryside, from severe diarrhoea, and stomach, liver and bladder cancers.
The mortality information was “reluctantly” excised by the World Bank from the published report, according to advisers to the research project.
I'm not quite sure how to interpret these numbers. They sound large, but 750,000 persons is 0.06% of a population of 1,321,900,000. The BBC reports that air pollution was causing 310,000 premature deaths a year in 11 EU countries (Air pollution causes early deaths, 2005) with a combined 2004 population of about 394 million. That's 0.08% per capita.