Published: Sat, April 06, 2019
Research | By Sheri Schwartz

Gains in life expectancy as air pollution declines

Gains in life expectancy as air pollution declines

The number of air pollution deaths in China dropped from 2016 to 2017 but the Indian fatalities rose from 1.1 million to 1.2 million as the country's PM2.5 levels continued to rise.

The study found that China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths, with each country witnessing over 1.2 million deaths from all air pollution in 2017.

The State of Global Air 2018 report estimated that if air pollution levels were brought within the United Nations health body's guidelines, Nepal's average life expectancy would increase by 4.4 years.

The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study.

Household air pollution is another key issue, with 3.6 billion people estimated to be exposed globally, with a "double whammy" for the health of those also exposed to high levels of outdoor pollution.

Air pollution is responsible for more deaths across the world than other known risk factors such as alcohol use and physical inactivity.

Long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution is estimated to have contributed to almost 5 million deaths in 2017, of which China and India reported 1.2 million deaths each.

In south Asia, children can expect to have their lives cut short by 30 months, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months, because of a combination of outdoor air pollution caused by traffic and industry, and dirty air indoors, largely from cooking fires.

PM2.5, considered the most harmful air pollutant, can enter the innermost parts of the lungs and cause diseases. Another global study by Greenpeace released on 5 March this year cited Delhi-NCR as the most polluted capital city in the world, and Gurugram, the most polluted city.

The problem of air pollution found a mention in the election manifesto of India's main opposition Congress party on Tuesday.

In India, government schemes launched to address air pollution like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Household LPG program, accelerated Bharat Stage 6 clean vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme can have significant health benefits in the coming years.

The report suggested that the life expectancy has gone down by 20 months worldwide due to air pollution.

India has another unique concern with regard to air pollution - a large population in the country still uses the old-school method of burning solid fuels like coal, wood, charcoal, dung, and other forms of biomass to cook food, and heat and light their houses.

O'Keefe also pointed to China's levels of air pollution, which have bucked the developing world trend by starting to fall in the last several years.

Ravindra Khaiwal, a faculty member of Environment Health at the northern Chandigarh-based Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, said: "Air pollution is becoming a major health risk leading to increased mortality".

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