China: Enter at Your Own RiskPosted: November 24, 2005
Today Chinese officials shut down water flowing into Harbin, China, because it contains massive quantities of pollution – a slick, containing carcinogenic benzene, dozens of miles long. Millions of people who live in Harbin will have no tap water for days.
But China has always been a site of major disasters. This is at least partially a function of statistics – China has so many people that it's going to get a disproportionate number of deaths. But still… according to the Disaster Center, over thirteen million people died in natural disasters in China during the 20th century. 3,700,000 people died in floods in 1931. Earthquakes, epidemics, droughts – China has seen it all. Geographic size also matters, of course, but the Soviet Union had far fewer disasters like this, and with the exception of Stalin's engineered famine, which killed five million people in 1932, a much lower death toll. That famine was a result of evil, murderous public policy – anything but natural.
Anyway. It's also currently the most polluted country on the planet – reflected by the current nightmare. Read the report on China by Energy Information Administration (which, as a subdepartment of the Department of Energy, provides “Official Energy Statistics from the U.S. Government”). In 1998, the WHO reported that seven of the world's ten worst polluted cities were in China. Or, according to The Economist, which quotes the World Bank, sixteen out of twenty.
The Chinese government appears to be committed to remedying the pollution problem, but clearly, there's a LONG way to go.
So, unfortunately, as fascinating, unique, and ancient as the Chinese culture is, it is clear that visiting China is a risky endeavor. If you go there, be aware of the serious environmental problems, and try not to breathe too deeply…
p.s. Stuff like this makes W look like a tree-hugger, huh?