Air pollution can cut 8 yrs off lives of 250 mln north Indians: Report

Air pollution shortened the average life expectancy by 5.2 years in India, according to the report

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 28 July 2020

Nearly 250 million residents of north India are on track to lose more than eight years of life expectancy if air pollution levels are not reduced drastically, a new report based on an analysis of 20 years of pollution levels has found.

In India, the world’s second-most polluted country (first is Bangladesh), air pollution shortened the average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it did if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was met; and 2.3 years relative to what it would be if pollution was reduced to meet the country’s own national standard, stated the report.

Some regions in India fared much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in the national capital Delhi, and 8.6 years in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the most polluted state.

The report was released on July 28, 2020, by The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). The Air Quality Life Index data in the report was averaged across women, men and children globally, and covers period between 1998 and 2018.

The highest loss of life expectancy in India was in UP’s capital city Lucknow, which has the highest pollution level in the country — 11 times greater than the WHO guideline — said the report. Its residents stand to lose 10.3 years of life expectancy if the same pollution levels persist.

Since 1998, average annual particulate pollution increased 42 per cent in India. All of India’s 1.4 billion population lives in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeded the WHO guideline, and 84 per cent live in regions where it exceeded India’s own air quality standard.

India’s capital Delhi is also highly polluted. Residents of Delhi could see 9.4 years added to their lives if pollution is reduced to meet the WHO guideline; 6.5 years if pollution met India’s national standard, according to the report. In fact, a quarter of India’s population, mainly those living in Indo Gangetic Plain (IGP) region, was exposed to pollution levels not seen in any other country.

 In a similar study done in 2019 by the institute, it was found that there was a 72 per cent increase in pollution from 1998 to 2016 in IGP region, home to about 40 per cent of India’s population. The region experienced particulate pollution that was about twice as high as the rest of the country, and the average citizen living in the region can expect to lose about seven years of life expectancy.

South Asia

According to the report, particulate pollution has been on the rise in South Asia and shortens lives more than anywhere else in the world. India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan — which account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population — are also among the most polluted.

These countries account for 23 per cent of the world’s population; and 60 per cent of life years that would be lost globally if these pollution levels persist.

The average resident of these four countries is exposed to particulate pollution levels that are 44 per cent higher than two decades ago. Had 1998 pollution levels persisted, they would be on track to lose 3.2 years of life expectancy — versus five years today, the report said. 

The increase is not surprising. Over the course of the last 20 years, industrialisation, economic development and population growth have led to skyrocketing energy demand in these countries. In India and Pakistan, the number of vehicles on the road has increased about four-fold since the early 2000s, it said.

It added that electricity generation from fossil fuels tripled from 1998 to 2017 in these four countries combined.

In terms of national average, Bangladesh ranked as the most polluted country in the world. People in Bangladesh could live 6.2 years longer if pollution levels met the WHO guideline, with the 13 million living in the capital city Dhaka living 7.2 years longer if air quality improved. 

Global average

Globally, the average person is losing 1.9 years of life expectancy due to particulate pollution exceeding the WHO guideline. This, the report said, was more than devastating communicable diseases like tuberculosis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV / AIDS), behavioural killers such as cigarette smoking, and even war.

For instance, according to the report, first-hand cigarette smoke leads to a reduction in global average life expectancy of about 1.8 years; alcohol and drug use reduces life expectancy by 11 months; unsafe water and sanitation take off seven months; HIV / AIDS cuts lives short by four months; malaria by three months; and conflict and terrorism take off 18 days.

The report was authored by Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics at University of Chicago and Claire Fan, pre-doctoral fellow with the EPIC. 

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