While many parts of the world struggle with natural disasters and hurricanes, South Asia faces another challenge that is quietly reducing the life expectancy of its people. A new report suggests that the life expectancy of South Asians is being shortened by up to 5.1 years. Why only South Asia? Well, the answer lies in the fact that South Asia is home to what are considered to be some of the most polluted countries in the world, namely Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
According to the report, poor air quality in India takes an average of 5.3 years off an individual. One would wonder that, given that conditions such as malnutrition and cardiovascular disease are more commonly heard of, they may be taking more years off of life expectancy, but that is far from the truth. In fact, the average life expectancy of an Indian is reduced by about 4.5 years due to cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, maternal malnutrition shortens the average life expectancy of an Indian by 1.8 years. In simple words, increasing pollution in India acts as a silent killer, reducing life expectancy by a total of 5.3 years.
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What was the report?
On August 29, the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute released a report titled “2023 Air Quality Index (AQLI) Annual Update.” AQLI is a measure of the impact of particle pollution on life expectancy. A recent report took the 2021 date of the particles into account to study their effect on life expectancy.
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What did the research show?
South Asian countries struggle with air pollution as a huge threat to life. The situation is worse in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. As noted above, the impact of air pollution on life expectancy in these countries is greater than other significant threats to health.
The report suggests that the threat to life expectancy from air pollution is even greater than other health threats such as lack of sanitation, tobacco use and unsafe water. For example, tobacco use reduces life expectancy in such nations by 2.8 years. On the other hand, poor sanitary conditions and defective water shorten the lifespan by 1 year. Even alcohol consumption does not shorten life expectancy as much as air pollution, as it shortens life expectancy by half a year.
The report found that the average person living in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal is exposed to 51 percent higher levels of particulate pollution compared to last century.
The report says that if air pollution levels had remained constant over time in the year 2000, people in those countries would have lost more than 3.3 years of life expectancy, rather than the 5.2 years that will be the case in 2021.
A study of air pollution in South Asia
The most polluted country in the world is Bangladesh. Fortunately, the country saw a 2.1% drop in particulate pollution in 2021 compared to 2020 levels, so it remains the most polluted country in the world. Air pollution has a terrible effect on the life expectancy of the people of Bangladesh, as the average loss of years in Bangladesh due to air pollution is 6.8 years. According to the World Health Organization, annual average concentrations of PM 2.5 must not exceed 5 µg/m3.
Talking about India, this country is the second most polluted country in the world. The average annual level of particulate pollution in India exceeds the limit suggested by the World Health Organization. About 67.4% of the population in India lives in areas exceeding the national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3.
Air quality levels in India have been declining over the years. According to the report, average annual particulate pollution increased in India by 67.7% from 1998 to 2021. This further reduced average life expectancy by a total of 2.3 years/ Between 2020 and 2021, PM 2.5 levels in India are increased sharply from 56.2 µg/m3 to 58.7 µg/m3. This is 10 times more than WHO guidelines. The report suggests that from 2013 to 2021, the global increase in pollution by 59.1 percent is actually India’s contribution.
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