In 1996, the government annual report, State of the Environment, noted that environmental pollution was expanding into the countryside, and that ecological destruction was intensifying . Environmental problems are seriously affecting overall social and economic development in the country. China Environment News, a national newspaper of the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), reported that in recent years, economic costs associated with ecological destruction and environmental pollution have reached as high as 14 percent of the country’s gross national product (GNP) . More recently, the World Bank estimated that air and water pollution cost China nearly 8 percent of its GNP, around US$54 billion . Although solid scientific data are lacking, the government has identified environmental factors as one of the four leading factors influencing the morbidity and mortality of China’s people today . The importance of environmental factors is well understood by some, as shown by a 1994 opinion survey about risks. Respondents who hold science or engineering degrees ranked risk from pollution ahead of natural disasters .
Responding to growing public concerns about the environment, the Chinese Government has officially named the environment as one of its top priorities and has committed itself to reversing the trend of environmental deterioration . Over the past decade, China has increased environmental spending, adopted market incentives, strengthened lawmaking and enforcement, and promoted nationwide environmental education. Decisions made in the next decade or two about energy, transportation, and agricultural technologies will largely determine how successful China will be in achieving its goal of sustainable development.
This case study describes the initial findings of an ongoing project between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Chinese Government to evaluate the links between environment and health in China. The goal of this collaborative project is to develop information and indicators that will enable decisionmakers to make informed choices about the environment, energy, infrastructure, and related issues.
The first section of this profile focuses on air pollution trends and the impact of air pollution on human health. Routine monitoring of air pollution and good hospital and health records have enabled researchers to gain a fairly clear picture of air pollution’s impact on human health and what the future will hold if air pollution continues to worsen. Water pollution also presents a major threat to public health, although data in this area are less complete. Although data limitations prevent a comprehensive review, the second section reviews the most recent evidence concerning the extent of health problems associated with water pollution. The third section reviews China’s laws and policies to protect the environment and health.
10. National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) 1996 Report on the State of the Environment (NEPA, Beijing, 1997) (Chinese language edition).
11. Qian Chen, “Improve the Eco-Environment and Rebuild the Beautiful Mountains and Rivers,” China Environment News (September 13, 1997), p. A.
12. The World Bank, Clear Water, Blue Skies: China’s Environment in the New Century (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1997), p. 23.
13 . Op. cit. 10.
14. Zhang Jianguang, “Environmental Hazards in the Chinese Public’s Eyes,” Risk Analysis, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1994), p. 165.