aqli: Air pollution may cut 7.6 years of life expectancy of 40% of Indians: AQLI | India News

NEW DELHI: Most of the world breathes unsafe air, taking more than two years off global life expectancy, while the air pollution shortens average life expectancy in India, the second most polluted country in the world after Bangladesh, by five years, relative to what it would be if the new stringent WHO guidelines were met, said the new Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) analysis released on Tuesday.
It also said the pollution would cut 7.6 years of life expectancy of 40% of Indians who live in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
The report analysing AQLI, released by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), noted that air pollution is the greatest threat to human health in India in terms of life expectancy, reducing it to by five years whereas child and maternal malnutrition reduces average life expectancy by about 1.8 years, while smoking reduces the average life expectancy by 1.5 years.
As per AQLI, in the Indo-Gangetic plains of northern India, 510 million residents, nearly 40% of the country’s population, are on track to lose 7.6 years of life expectancy on average if current pollution levels persist.
In the case of Delhi, the world’s most polluted capital, people would lose 10 years of their lives in a business-as-usual scenario of not adhering to the new WHO standards.
Analysing the data till 2020, the EPIC report said about 44% of the world’s increase in pollution has come from India since 2013, and noted that the air pollution continued to increase in South Asia – the most affected region of the world – during the first year of the pandemic despite Covid-19 lockdowns.
Since 1998, India’s average annual particulate pollution (PM2.5) has increased by 61.4%, and currently, it stands as the world’s second most polluted country.
In 2019, over 7 million deaths annually were linked to exposure of various pollutants in the world with analysts claiming that around 80% of deaths attributed to PM2.5 exposure. Among all classical air pollutants, inhalable PM2.5 is considered the most hazardous as it gets deposited in lungs through breathing and causes serious respiratory problems.
The WHO had last year cut its guideline for annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in half, from 10 µg/m3 to just 5 µg/m3, bringing most of the world – over 97% of the global population – into the unsafe zone.
The EPIC’s AQLI converts air pollution concentrations into their impact on life expectancy, noting that the impact of air pollution on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, more than three times that of alcohol use and unsafe water, six times that of HIV/AIDS, and 89 times that of conflict and terrorism.
Referring to the new stringent benchmark, the EPIC report said the entire Indian population live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline. “More than 63% of the population live in areas that exceed the country’s own national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3,” it said while noting that Indians would have gained 1.6 years if its national standards were met.
“By updating the AQLI with the new WHO guideline based on the latest science, we have a better grasp on the true cost we are paying to breathe polluted air. Now that our understanding of pollution’s impact on human health has improved, there is a stronger case for governments to prioritize it as an urgent policy issue,” says AQLI director hrista Hasenkopf.
The AQLI also illustrates how air pollution policies can increase life expectancy when they meet the WHO guideline for what is considered a safe level of exposure, existing national air quality standards, or user-defined air quality levels. “This information can help to inform local communities and policymakers about the importance of air pollution policies in concrete terms,” said the report.
As far as India is concerned, the government had in 2019 launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) with a goal to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30%, relative to 2017 levels, by 2024. The NCAP targets are non-binding.
“However, if India were to achieve and sustain this reduction, it would lead to remarkable health improvements. According to the AQLI, a permanent, nationwide reduction of 25%, the midpoint of NCAP’s target range, would increase India’s average national life expectancy by 1.4 years, and by 2.6 years for residents of the national capital territory of Delhi,” said the report.

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