Air Pollution: Delhi, Kolkata stand to lose 9 years of life expectancy if 2019 pollution levels persist

India will have gained 5.9 years in life expectancy if the WHO guidelines on air pollution control are followed

Pulaha Roy
Published: Monday 25 October 2021

South Asia accounted for 60 per cent of the global loss in person-years due to toxic levels of air pollution, according to a new study. 

Delhi and Kolkata in the Indo Gangetic plains with some of the highest pollution levels on the planet are on track to lose nine years of life expectancy if 2019 pollution levels persist, the report, Air Quality Life Index, showed.

The study quantified the harmful effects of air pollution through loss of life expectancy (calculated in person-years) by conducting micro-level experiments on two different sub groups in China, and correlating the results with global, satellite-driven particulate matter 2.5 measurements. 

Average life expectancy across South Asia would be higher by 5.6 years if air pollution is regulated according to World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, according to researchers from University of Chicago, who conducted the study.

North India isn’t the only region in the country to witness high levels of air pollution. Over the years, high particulate concentration expanded geographically as demonstrated by the dangerous life expectancy trends in states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the report added.

Compared to the 2000s, these two states have lost 2.5-2.9 years in life expectancy. India will have gained 5.9 years in life expectancy if the WHO guidelines on air pollution control are followed.

Trailing closely behind is Bangladesh, where the residents of the country would have gained 5.4  years if pollution levels were restricted to WHO’s guidelines. 

In Dhaka, the most polluted region in the country, residents may lose 7.7 years because of air pollution. 

In Pakistan and Nepal, residents will gain four and five years, respectively, if pollution is brought under control. 

On an average, people in these four regions have been exposed to 35 per cent more pollution compared to 2000.

Down To Earth further analysed and visualised the data: 

The graphic shows the change over time in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh by subtracting life expectancy levels in 2000 from the 2019 data. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region was the worst-hit. Bajaur, Lower Dir and Upper Dir — three of the top five districts with the highest change in life expectancy from 2000 levels — fall within the region. 

In India, Mon in Nagaland and Longding in Arunachal Pradesh have experienced the highest loss in life expectancy over time, the DTE analysis found. 

Proximity of the most-affected districts to mountainous regions was the general trend that emerged from the data. 

All the 118 districts that recorded a loss in life expectancy compared to 2000 level are situated close to either the Hindu Kush mountain range or the Himalayas. 

India’s Clean Air Programme (NCAP) and other projects have been undertaken by governments to mitigate the crisis, the study noted.

India has set a target to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 per cent compared to 2017 levels by 2024, according to NCAP. This would lead to a gain of 1.8 years for the residents of the country and 3.5 years for the residents of Delhi.

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