Explainer: How air pollution is affecting Indians’ average life expectancy?

Since 2013, India has accounted for about 44% of the global rise in pollution

Worsening air pollution is robbing a decade of the life expectancy of those living in Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities and India’s capital.

Nearly 40 per cent of India’s population residing in the Indo-Gangetic plains which includes Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are set to lose some 7.6 years of life expectancy.

According to a new analysis by the University of Chicago, Indians, on average, are losing about five years due to ever-increasing air pollution.

Average life expectancy in India

According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data published in 2020, the total life expectancy in India is 70.8 years, with 69.5 for males and 72.2 for females.

According to the index (based on data from 2020), 63 per cent of India’s population lives in areas where air pollution levels surpass the country’s own national air quality threshold of 40 g/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre).

Exposure to PM2.5 affects lungs and heart

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is an air pollutant that is particularly a concern for people’s health when the levels in the air are high.

The term fine particles, or particulate matter, refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and a half microns or less in width.

Such particles can harm both lungs and the heart if an individual is exposed to them. Particle pollution has been related to a number of issues, including early death in individuals with heart or lung illness, according to several scientific studies.

The most common human-made sources include internal combustion engines, power generation, industrial processes, agricultural processes, construction, and residential wood and coal burning.

India accounts for 44 per cent of global increase in pollution

Since 2013, India has accounted for about 44% of the global rise in pollution, with particle pollution levels rising from 53 g/m3 earlier to 56 g/m3 today, roughly 11 times higher than WHO standards.

Last year, the WHO revised its air pollution standards (PM 2.5) from 10 micrograms per cubic metre (annual average) to 5 micrograms per cubic metre in order to provide clear evidence of the harm air pollution causes to human health at even lower concentrations than previously believed.

National Clean Air Programme

Seeing the rising air pollution, the government in the year 2019 launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).

(NCAP) sets a non-binding goat to reduce particulate pollution by 20 to 30 per cent as compared to the 2017 levels, by 2024. If these targets are met, health can improve remarkably.

Air Quality Life Index

On the other hand, the Air Quality Life Index (AEI) measures the potential gain in life expectancy that communities could see if they reduced air pollution to comply with the WHO guideline or national standards.

Apart from a four-fold increase in automobiles during the early 2000s, the index attributes India’s pollution levels to industrialization, economic development, and population expansion.

Life expectancy to improve if WHO’s air pollution norms are followed

If the WHO guidelines are met in the 10 most populous states of the country, life expectancy can improve significantly.

Uttar Pradesh will gain more than eight years in its life expectancy, Bihar will gain more than seven years, West Bengal will gain nearly six years, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh will gain around five years, Gujarat will gain a little over three years and Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will gain some two years.

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