Air pollution is decreasing our average lifespan by two years


  • Wellness
  • Saturday, 08 Aug 2020

Air pollution in certain countries is so bad that it is cutting average local lifespans by up to eight years. — AFP

Air pollution cuts life expectancy for every man, woman and child on Earth by nearly two years, according to data released on July 28 (2020), which experts say show that poor air quality is “the greatest risk to human health”.

The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) says that as the world races to find a vaccine to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control, air pollution would continue to cause billions of people to lead shorter and sicker lives across the globe.

The index converts particulate air pollution – mainly from the burning of fossil fuels – into its impact on human health.

It found that despite significant reductions in particulate matter in China – once one of the world’s most polluted countries – the overall level of air pollution had stayed stable over the past two decades.

In countries such as India and Bangladesh, air pollution is so severe that it now cuts average lifespans in some areas by nearly a decade.

The research authors say that the quality of the air many humans breathe constitute a far higher health risk than Covid-19.

“Though the threat of the coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is getting, embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people to lead longer and healthier lives,” says AQLI creator and University of Chicago Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School Dr Michael Greenstone.

Nearly a quarter of the global population lives in just four south Asian countries that are among the most polluted: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

AQLI found that these populations would see their lifespan cut by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels 44% higher than 20 years ago.

It says that particulate pollution was also a “signifiant concern” across South-East Asia, where forest and crop fires were combining with traffic and power plant fumes to create toxic air.

Some 89% of the region’s 650 million people live in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended guidelines.

While places such as the United States, Europe and Japan have succeeded in improving air quality, pollution still takes an average of two years off life expectancy worldwide, AQLI says.

Bangladesh was found to have the worst air quality of any country, and around 250 million residents of India’s northern states will lose eight years of life on average unless pollution is brought under control.

Several studies have shown that exposure to air pollution is also a key Covid-19 risk factor and Prof Greenstone urges governments to prioritise air quality after the pandemic.

“No shot in the arm will alleviate air pollution,” says the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago director.

“The solution lies in robust public policy.” – AFP Relaxnews

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