In a grim revelation, a new report has shed light on the dire consequences of rising air pollution in South Asia, sounding an urgent alarm on its severe impact on life expectancy. The study, released on Tuesday by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC), paints a stark picture of the region’s air quality crisis, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan – collectively constituting one of the world’s most polluted areas.
Titled the “Air Quality Life Index,” the report underscores the harrowing effects of hazardous air on health, disclosing that air pollution can slash life expectancy by over five years per person in South Asia. The region’s rapid industrialization and burgeoning population have led to a sharp deterioration in air quality, with particulate pollution levels surging over 50% since the beginning of the century.
Bangladesh, positioned as the world’s most polluted country, faces the brunt of this crisis with an alarming loss of 6.8 years of life on average per person. In contrast, the United States experiences a comparatively lower impact of 3.6 months on average. India, responsible for a staggering 59% of the global increase in pollution since 2013, is grappling with hazardous air that could further shorten life spans in some of the country’s most polluted regions. The report highlights the dire situation in New Delhi, the world’s most polluted mega-city, where average life expectancy has dropped by over 10 years.
A glimmer of hope emerges from the report’s recommendation to reduce lung-damaging airborne particles, referred to as PM 2.5, to World Health Organization (WHO) recommended levels. This could potentially extend the average life expectancy by 2.3 years, equating to an astounding 17.8 billion cumulative life years. The report points to specific countries’ potential gains – residents of Pakistan could add 3.9 years, while those in Nepal could gain 4.6 years if WHO guidelines were met.
China stands out as a positive example in the battle against pollution, having reduced pollution by 42.3% between 2013 and 2021. This achievement underscores the vital role of governments in generating accessible air quality data and fostering global collaboration to combat the escalating threat of air pollution.