Air pollution in Delhi shortening lives by 10 years, damning report finds

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Air pollution in India is so bad that it is cutting short the lives of its citizens by almost five years, a new report has revealed.

In Delhi, the most polluted city in the world, it is even worse: air pollution is shortening lives by almost 10 years.

“Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is the greatest threat to human health in India, reducing life expectancy by five years,” the Air Quality Life Index annual report, released on Tuesday, said.

It added that there was little change in global particulate pollution during the pandemic, according to satellite-derived PM2.5 data.

“The global population weighted-average PM2.5 level declined only from 27.7 to 27.5 µg/m3 between 2019 and 2020, despite the well-documented, rapid slowdown in the global economy.”

“In South Asia, the world’s most polluted region, pollution actually rose during the first year of the pandemic,” it noted.

In India, all of its 1.3 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.

“More than 63 per cent of the population live in areas that exceed the country’s own national air quality standard,” it said.

The report said the most polluted region of India is the Indo-Gangetic plains of the north. The plains are home to more than half a billion people, or about 40 per cent of the country’s population.

The annual average PM2.5 concentration in 2020 was 76.2 µg/m3. “The region contains the capital city of Delhi, the most polluted megacity in the world with average annual PM2.5 levels exceeding 107 µg/m3, or more than 21 times the WHO guidelines,” it said.

Those living in the states of Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal — the Indo-Gangetic plains — are on track to lose 7.6 years of their life on average if the current pollution levels persist.

The report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (Epic) stated that “the residents of Lucknow stand to lose 9.5 years of life expectancy if pollution levels persist”.

A permanent nationwide reduction of 25 per cent 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, the report added.

In April this year, the World Health Organisation noted that nearly everybody in the world breathes air that doesn’t meet its standards for air quality.

“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” said Dr Maria Neira, head of WHO’s department of environment, climate change and health. “Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air.”

WHO said that in the 117 countries monitoring air quality, air in 17 per cent of cities in high-income countries fall below its guidelines for PM2.5 or PM10. In low- and middle-income countries, air quality in less than one per cent of cities complies with recommended thresholds, it said.

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