World Bank bows to Beijing censors

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images What do you do if the World Bank is about to come out with a major study on pollution in your country, and the news is unequivocally bad? And by bad, I mean something on the order of 750,000 of your countrymen die premature deaths each year as a result of urban ...

600794_070703_beijing_05.jpg
600794_070703_beijing_05.jpg

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

What do you do if the World Bank is about to come out with a major study on pollution in your country, and the news is unequivocally bad? And by bad, I mean something on the order of 750,000 of your countrymen die premature deaths each year as a result of urban air pollution, and another 60,000 die as a result of polluted water.

If you're Beijing, you simply convince the World Bank to delete the offensive sections, arguing that breaking the news might cause "social unrest."

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

What do you do if the World Bank is about to come out with a major study on pollution in your country, and the news is unequivocally bad? And by bad, I mean something on the order of 750,000 of your countrymen die premature deaths each year as a result of urban air pollution, and another 60,000 die as a result of polluted water.

If you’re Beijing, you simply convince the World Bank to delete the offensive sections, arguing that breaking the news might cause “social unrest.”

The Bank’s resulting report, Cost of Pollution in China, omits the dangerous numbers. It still contains, however, an entire chapter on what these deaths might cost China in terms of GDP. It also estimates “people’s willingness to pay to reduce risk of premature death,” and includes this little gem: 

The results show that respondents care very much about reducing their mortality risks, and are willing to pay for this.

Shocking. People care about extending their lives.

It gets better: One of the reasons offered by a Chinese official for the removal of the mortality estimates was that they didn’t want the report to be “too thick.” He’s right. Who wants to carry a heavy report when you can hardly breathe?

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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