In its relentless chase of GDP growth, China has seen unprecedented increases in the pollution of its air and waterways to the extent that “cancer villages” are sprouting up all over the country.$CUT$
Even the Chinese government has acknowledged that villages in some parts of the country worst hit by pollution and environmental degradation have seen a sharp rise in the number of cancer and cancer-related illnesses.
The deterioration of the environment and the rise of cancer rates have prompted a public outcry about the costs of the country’s rapid GDP growth.
In Singapore, we have also witnessed the obsessive push to maintain GDP growth even if it comes at the expense of our environment and people. While pollution here may not have reached the levels seen in China, we have our own serious environmental issues to be wary of.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we have the largest carbonfootprint per head in the Asia-Pacific. Our $40,000 GDP per capitadrives our voracious consumption habits. The high carbon emission isalso fueled by the corporate sector. WWF President Yolanda Kakabadsecommented that “Singapore…is a society that maybe is one of thebest examples of what we should not do.”
In another study,researchers at the University of British Columbia compared financial indicators (such as the GDP) with ecological indices (such as waste produced) of 152 countries. Singapore came in right at the bottom.
Yet, this has not deterred the PAP from pushing ahead with its growth-at-all-cost economic strategy. The main reason for the increase our population size to 6.9 million is so that we can “get 3% to 5% GDP growth”.
It seems to have ignored the negative effects of an overcrowded city. With more people and production, comes more pollution. In time to come will we see our own cancer villages?
Unwanted effects of GDP growth do not just manifest themselves in the pollution of air and water. The physical and mental health of our people are also threatened. For one thing, transmission of diseases is greatly increased and harder to control when a city is densely-populated.
Read also Overcrowding and our health
The mental health of the people, brought on by crammed living conditions with little recreational space, contributes to increased stress. Such conditions can, and often do, translate into psychological disorders.
Stressful lifestyles also have the tendency to cause social problems such as family breakdown, juvenile delinquency and anti-social behaviour as well as reduced fertility.
It is clear that GDP growth must not be pursued for its own sake. If it worsens rather than alleviates the quality of life and well-being of the people, then what is the point?
This is why the SDP advocates that another indicator, such as the Genuine Progress Index (GPI) be used together with the GDP. The GPI is designed to calculate the cost of economic production and assess the quality of life of the people.
Read also Why the SDP does not propose a target population
The adoption of the GPI as a measure of economic progress will allow the Government to assess if GDP growth is achieved at the expense of the people’s well-being.
In our population paper Building A People: Sound Policies For a Secure Future, we note that economic growth must be tied to the happiness of our people and the key to happiness is robust health.
If anyone is still doubtful, just ask those living in a cancer village in China.