Toxic air, water and soil are responsible for the deaths of 9 million people each year, more than the number who die from war, malaria and AIDS combined, according to a study of the impact of global pollution on public health.
The landmark study – published on Oct 20 by the UK-based medical journal The Lancet – said most pollution-related casualties occur in developing countries. What is China doing about this threat?
President Xi Jinping gave a definitive answer at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. He reaffirmed China’s commitment to doubling up on green development at the Party congress, demonstrating strong political will to reversing damages done to the sky, water and soil in China.
Xi also vowed to carry out a “Healthy China” initiative, pledging more accessible and better medical and health services to help safeguard and improve the well-being of the people.
To me, Xi’s call to build a “Healthy China” and his urge to ramp up pollution-busting efforts are intertwined. China with pollution mitigated or prevented will stand healthier on all counts.
Take air pollution as an example. It ranks as the fourth-highest risk factor for global death and the fourth-biggest threat to health in China, following dietary risks, high blood pressure and tobacco, according to 2005-2016 data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Poor air quality kills 5.5 million worldwide annually, with more than half of the deaths occurring in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India, according to a press release at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February 2016.
The number of people who died in China last year from pollution-related diseases, such as stroke and lung cancer, is not yet available. Given the size of the country and the complexity of calculations, any such figure will only be an estimate but definitely alarming.
Pollution is a winnable battle, as the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, Richard Horton, and Senior Executive Editor Pamela Das said on Oct 20.
In the latest results of the Global Burden of Disease, for example, death rates for all causes of air pollution were reported to have fallen by 23 percent between 2006 and 2016, they said.
In China, the rates dropped by 19.5 percent between 2005 and 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation data.
This could be attributed to the country’s unrelenting efforts to close big industrial polluters and increase penalties on those who breach environmental rules and regulations, which have become more and more stringent in recent years.
The Lancet study also finds pollution-related deaths were linked to a 1.3 percent loss in national GDP in developing countries.
That partly explains why President Xi’s quote, reiterated at the Party Congress – “Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” – has struck home and is being championed by officials as well as the general public.
It is anticipated that what the general secretary of the CPC, the world’s largest political party, said at the Party Congress will be followed through by actions throughout China shortly after the meeting, as shown in steps that followed previous congresses.
Those actions should feature a holistic approach to conserving mountains, rivers, forests, lakes, farmland and grassland, including not only funding and planning of specific sector policies, but also a behavioral shift of businesses as well as citizens toward being more environmently conscious.
Controlling pollution will save lives and make a “Healthy China” a reality, much sooner.
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