Air pollution shortens average Indian life expectancy by 5 years: EPIC


New Delhi: Delhi is the world’s most polluted city with air pollution shortening lives by almost 10 years, while in Lucknow it’s 9.5 years, according to the latest Air Quality Life Index by the Energy Policy Institute of University of Chicago (EPIC).

The study added that the average Indian life expectancy is shortened by five years at current air quality levels.

India’s 1.3 billion people live in areas where the “annual average particulate pollution level” exceeds the WHO safe limit of 5µg/m³, it said.

The report mentioned that the Indo-Gangetic Plain is the most polluted region in the world. Over half a billion people from Punjab to West Bengal are on track to lose 7.6 years of life expectancy on average, if current pollution levels persist according to the report.

“Indo-Gangetic Plain is the most polluted region in the world”

EPIC said that particulate pollution is the “greatest threat to human life” in India in terms of life expectancy and since 1998, this particulate pollution has increased by 61.4%. This makes it more lethal than smoking which reduces life expectancy by about 2.5 years.

The report also mentioned that India is the second-most polluted country after Bangladesh, the immense Indo-Gangetic Plain is more polluted than it with PM 2.5 levels in 2020 measuring 76.2 micrograms/cubic metre vs 75.8 ug/m3.

“India’s average is far lower at 56.8 but take north India out of the equation, then the rest of India’s PM 2.5 level falls even lower to under 40 micrograms/cubic metre” it said.

Talking about the PM2.5 level in Delhi, the study reveled that Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels measured 107.6, over ten times the WHO’s safe limit of just 5.

PM 2.5 is an extremely tiny particulate matter made of toxic substances which settles deep in the lungs and other organs, beating the body’s defences.

“Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels over ten times the WHO’s safe limit”

It acknowledged government efforts to fight air pollution – the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) aims to reduce harmful particulate matter by 20 to 30%.

“If India were to sustain this reduction, it would lead to remarkable health improvements,” the report says, adding that a 25% reduction would increase the national life expectancy average by 1.4 years, and by 2.6 years for Delhi’s residents.

The report’s authors call it the greatest global health threat with risks beginning right from the foetus stage.

Despite the lockdown, air pollution levels in India continued to rise in 2020, shortening the average Indian life expectancy by five years, compared to the global average of 2.2 years. This is a pan-South Asia crisis with levels rising in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.

The reasons are clear. In the last two decades or so, vehicular traffic and coal-fired power plants are up three to four times across the region. This has been compounded by crop burning, brick kilns and other industrial activity.

Globally, since 2013, about 44 per cent of the world’s increase in pollution has come from India. Dr Christa Hasenkopf, Director of AQLI explains how. “From 2013-2020, there was a global decrease in PM2.5.

However, if you look at countries that experienced an increase over that interval and calculate their average increase, India accounts for a substantial portion of that increase – which is to what that stat is referring. India has such a large impact on the world’s population-weighted average pollution levels because of its large population.”

Incidentally, since 2013 China has cut its emissions by almost 40 per cent. However, as the report points out, much of this success came ‘from a “command and control” playbook that generally does not consider how to minimize the costs of achieving their goals.’


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