Today China replied to argue that the figures underlying the headline were baseless. This article does little to convince.
World Bank Death-By-Pollution Figures Baseless - China
BEIJING - World Bank estimates of hundreds of thousands of premature Chinese deaths each year from polluted air and water are baseless, a vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration said on Tuesday.
The Financial Times said this month the Chinese government, which conducted the survey in partnership with the World Bank, had asked the lender not to publish the estimates for fear they could trigger social unrest.
China, beset by growing public alarm about acrid air and toxic water, has promised to cut major industrial pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010. But last year the country failed to meet the annual target.
The survey says about 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water.
Zhou Jian, vice minister of the administration, said linking environment and health was a "very complex scientific issue" and that it was impossible to estimate how much of a person's life pollution shaves off.
"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 conference version of the study, available at the bank's Web site, says some estimates of the physical and economic cost of pollution have been omitted because of uncertainties about calculation methods and their application.
However, the report goes on to estimate the health costs from premature deaths associated with outdoor air pollution at 394 billion yuan (US$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.
China-watchers said it was standard practice in research projects conducted with the government for both sides to have a veto over the conclusions.
On Monday, a senior US lawmaker on Monday urged 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.
Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in a letter to Zoellick made public on Monday, said he was troubled to read that Chinese health and environment officials suppressed the estimates and the parts of China that were worst hit.
Frank has led US congressional hearings this year on the World Bank and, separately, on Washington's dispute with Beijing over the value of the Chinese currency, which the United States has said is undervalued.