'Air pollution shortens lifespan of Indians by 5.3 years'

Representational Pic
Representational PicGK Photo

New Delhi, Aug 30: Air pollution shortens an average Indian's life expectancy by 5.3 years, according to a report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

Some areas of India fare much worse than average, with air pollution shortening lives by 11.9 years in Delhi, claims the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report for 2023 released on Tuesday.

"India is the world’s second most polluted country. Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) shortens an average Indian’s life expectancy by 5.3 years, relative to what it would be if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 5 µg/m3 was met," says the report.

It states that all of India’s 1.3 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline.

The report mentions that 67.4 per cent of the population lives in areas that exceed the country’s national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3.

Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is the greatest threat to human health in India, the report notes.

The AQLI is a pollution index that shows the particulate air pollution impact on life expectancy.

Developed by the University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics Michael Greenstone and his team at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the AQLI is rooted in research that quantifies the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to air pollution and life expectancy.

The Index then combines this research with hyper-localized, satellite measurements of global particulate matter (PM2.5), yielding unprecedented insight into the true cost of pollution in communities around the world.

The report says that in the most polluted region of the country—the Northern Plains—521.2 million residents or 38.9 per cent of India’s population are on track to lose 8 years of life expectancy on average relative to the WHO guideline and 4.5 years relative to the national standard if current pollution levels persist, the report claims.

In contrast, cardiovascular diseases reduce the average Indian’s life expectancy by about 4.5 years, while child and maternal malnutrition reduces life expectancy by 1.8 years.

If India were to reduce particulate pollution to meet the WHO guideline, residents in Delhi—India’s capital and most populous city—would gain 11.9 years of life expectancy, the report informs.

In North 24 Parganas—the country’s second most populous district—residents would gain 5.6 years of life expectancy.

In 2019, India declared a “war against pollution” and launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), signalling its desire to reduce particulate pollution.

NCAP originally aimed to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 per cent nationally relative to 2017 levels by 2024 and focused on 102 cities that were not meeting India’s national annual average PM2.5 standard, termed “non-attainment cities.

In 2022, the Indian Government announced its revamped particulate pollution reduction target for NCAP, setting no national goal but increasing its ambition at the city level.

The new goal aims for a 40 per cent reduction relative to 2017 levels for an expanded number of 131 non-attainment cities by 2025-26.3 "If the ambition of the revised target is met, these cities’ overall annual average PM2.5 exposure would be 21.9 µg/m3 lower than 2017 levels. This would add 2.1 years onto the life of the average Indian living in these specific 131 cities and 7.9 months onto the life of the average Indian country-wide," the report notes.

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