Air pollution in India is reported to cause 527,700 deaths a year.
According to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) study, only China has more number of premature pollution-related deaths than India, while the United States comes a close third.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report, diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600.
"Air pollution is estimated to cause approximately two million premature deaths worldwide per year," National Geographic quoted Michal Krzyzanowski, an air quality adviser at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, as saying.
In the United States, premature deaths from toxic air pollutants are estimated at 41,200 annually.
Krzyzanowski worked with the WHO to develop new air quality guidelines that set out global goals to reduce deaths from pollution.
Damaging air pollutants include sulphur dioxide, particulate matter-a mixture of extremely small particles and water droplets-ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. China accounts for roughly one-third of the global total for these pollutants, according to Krzyzanowski. (See a map of China.)
The combustion of fossil fuels-whether to power China's many automobiles, its burgeoning factories, or its expanding megacities-is a primary source of outdoor air pollutants.
The burning of coal or charcoal to heat homes, common throughout China, also produces a range of indoor air pollutants. (Related: "China's Boom Is Bust for Global Environment, Study Warns" [May 16, 2005].)
Air pollution can trigger or worsen a wide spectrum of respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.
WHO's air guidelines warn that pregnant women, the elderly, the sick, and young children are especially susceptible to suffering severe effects from high pollution levels.
The total number of Chinese whose lives are cut short by pollution-triggered diseases aligns closely with the figures that were reportedly left out of a recent World Bank study.
China's State Environmental Protection Agency engineered the removal of the statistics, the Financial Times reported, because the government feared the figures could trigger social unrest.
The World Bank has committed roughly 40 billion dollars, along with expert advice, to projects ranging from rural poverty alleviation to promoting sustainable development.
Yet Internet access to certain World Bank reports on China is now being blocked in Beijing.
An official said the World Bank is still holding talks with Beijing on the final version of the pollution risk report, which is set to be published soon.
WHO leaders, meanwhile, say that meeting new targets on clean air, developed in consultation with 80 environmental health experts across the globe, would drastically curtail the number of Chinese pollution deaths.
With the 2008 Beijing Olympics round the corner, the Chinese capital has a massive incentive to improve air quality for the smog-smothered masses.