Pollution Leading to Higher Cancer Rates in China

China’s rapid development is creating a number of well-documented environmental problems, which in turn are leading to elevated cancer rates, especially in rural regions. Al Jazeera reports:

While rising cancer rates are largely associated with China’s emergence into the developed world, Anna Lora-Wainwright at China Dialogue writes that due to the rural-urban gap in China, millions are suffering from cancer and other pollution-related illnesses “out of the public limelight.”:

Clusters of cancer, infertility, birth defects and other pollution-related health problems are a major matter of concern for China’s citizens. They are increasingly taking action through civil litigation, complaints and petitions to state institutions – efforts aided by environmental NGOs, the media, and the effect of mass protest. Academic studies have drawn attention to the role the media, ENGOs and civil litigation as potential forces in aiding environmental protection. But most environmental suffering takes place far from the purview of journalists, courts and NGOs. Equally, the everyday struggles of people living with pollution are hugely diverse. Citizen action is often small in scale, relatively unorganised and is premised rather differently from the language of the media, courts and NGOs.

Studies of environmental consciousness tend to focus on urban middle classes, giving the false impression that rural populations are either unaffected, do not know or do not care. My research in severely polluted sites in Yunnan, Hunan and Guangdong provinces has convinced me that villagers have a sophisticated awareness of the risks they face.

However, in the majority of cases, they suffer in silence, are unsuccessful in their attempts to put an end to pollution, or are co-opted by polluting enterprises into seeing it as inevitable. This is especially the case when not only the local (and central) government depend on industry, but people themselves rely on them for employment. [Source]

CBS News profiles activist Wei Dongying, a resident of Wuli village near Hangzhou, where more than 10% of the population has died of cancer since chemical companies relocated there:

Wei has continued to send water samples and her documentation of the dead and dying to the central government. In February, China officially acknowledged the existence of cancer villages in the country’s five year plan. Environmental groups estimate there are more than 400 cancer villages in the vast country. China’s Ministry of Environment announced a clampdown on the use of 58 toxic chemicals and promised a crackdown on polluting factories.

“In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages,’” the Ministry of Environment said in its report.

For Wei, the government’s recognition came too late.

“What use is that?” Wei asked. “People have already died in our village. Now after we have cancer and many have died you admit there are cancer villages. Why didn’t you deal with this problem when we began protesting? Can this recognition save a single life?” [Source]

Read more about China’s cancer villages via CDT, including a map of the villages from Global Times.

July 2, 2013 3:04 PM
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