Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Just when you think China is on its way to more transparency, you see reports of the Chinese government pressuring the World Bank to not release figures indicating some 750,000 premature deaths in China due to environmental pollution. First of all, this figure is quite shocking by itself, even in a country with such a large population. Although the unofficial excuse is that government officials are fearful that releasing the regional distribution of premature deaths would trigger social unrests, I don't think farmers in China are in the habit of reading World Bank reports. The more likely reason is that the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) officials who coauthored the paper did not want regional officials to retaliate against SEPA in some fashion. Finally, it is a shame that the World Bank allowed the Chinese government to pressure it into not releasing information to the public, although frankly I am not surprised.

China forces World Bank to cut pollution figures

Agence France-Presse in Beijing Updated on Jul 03, 2007

Research showing that 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year from pollution was cut from a World Bank report following pressure from Beijing, the Financial Times said on Tuesday.

Beijing successfully lobbied for the removal of a third of the report, entitled Cost of Pollution in China, arguing the contents could lead to social unrest, the London-based newspaper said.

China’s State Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and health ministry asked the World Bank to remove the figures from a draft of the report finished last year that stated about 750,000 people die prematurely each year from pollution.

Advisers to the research team said China also successfully pushed for the removal of a detailed map showing which parts of the country suffered the most deaths.

The World Bank was told that it could not publish this information. It was “too sensitive and could cause social unrest,” the Financial Times quoted one adviser to the study as saying.

The World Bank put together the report in co-operation with Chinese government ministries over several years.

Guo Xiaomin, a retired SEPA official who coordinated the Chinese research team, told the newspaper the cuts were made partly because of concerns that the methodology was unreliable.

But he added the information on premature deaths “could cause misunderstanding,” the article said. Mr Guo reportedly also expressed concerns over the size of the report.

We did not announce these figures. We did not want to make this report too thick, he told the Financial Times.

Advisers to the project said the information was taken out reluctantly.

Officials from China’s environment agency and health ministry declined to comment to the Financial Times.

The World Bank reportedly said the findings of the final report were still under discussion, and that they would be made public as a series of papers soon.

When contacted by AFP on Tuesday, the World Bank’s office said it would shortly release a statement on the issue.

Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, according to previous World Bank research.

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