Report: China Had Pollution Deaths Nixed

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 7:24 AM

BEIJING -- Beijing persuaded the World Bank to cut from a report findings that pollution has caused about 750,000 premature deaths in China each year, the Financial Times reported.

The World Bank said Tuesday that the paper referred to a report that had not been finalized.

Produced with the cooperation of Chinese government ministries over several years, the report found the deaths took place mainly from air pollution in large cities, the Financial Times reported on its Web site late Monday, citing unnamed bank advisers and Chinese officials.

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

Advisers to the research team for the report _ "Cost of Pollution in China: Economic Estimates of Physical Damages" _ told the Financial Times that health and environment ministry officials suppressed a detailed map showing which parts of the country suffered the most deaths and other information.

"The World Bank was told that it could not publish this information. It was too sensitive and could cause social unrest," one unnamed adviser told the Financial Times.

Cut from the report were findings that air pollution levels in Chinese cities cause 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths each year, the newspaper said. Another 300,000 people die from exposure to poor air indoors, and more than 60,000 die due to poor quality water, it said.

The mortality information was "reluctantly" cut by the World Bank, according to advisers to the project, the newspaper said.

Guo Xiaomin, a retired environment ministry official who coordinated the Chinese research team, told the FT that some material was omitted from the pollution report because of concerns that the methodology was unreliable. He also said such information on premature deaths "could cause misunderstanding," the report said.

The bank statement said comments had been received from the Chinese government, particularly the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA.

It said some subjects such as economic cost calculations " ... have been left out of this conference edition due to still some uncertainties about calculation methods and its application. How to possibly make use of these materials will be continuously worked on during and after the conference."

A spokesman for SEPA, who would not give his name, said he had not heard of the World Bank report or the data it cited, and would not accept a copy of the FT story.

© 2007 The Associated Press