Air pollution shortening life spans by 5 years in Asia, study shows
Aug 31 2023
Air pollution has been rapidly encroaching on the health and longevity of individuals, particularly in Asia. A startling study conducted by the Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) at the University of Chicago has provided alarming data that paints a grim picture: air pollution is reducing the life expectancy of people in some Asian countries by up to eight years.
The major culprits, according to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) study, are six countries in Asia and Africa, namely Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, and Nigeria. These nations, together, account for a staggering 75% of all the years of life lost to pollution on a global scale.
At the heart of this critical issue is PM2.5, fine particulate matter. Originating from vehicle exhausts and fuel combustion, these particles are so minute — less than 2.5 microns in diameter — that they can bypass our natural defences, settling deep within our lungs. To visualize, consider a strand of human hair, which has a diameter ranging between 50 to 70 microns. PM2.5 is significantly finer and more insidious.
So dire are the consequences of PM2.5 pollution that the AQLI study has equated its effects on human health to the dangers of smoking. In fact, this form of pollution claims three times as many life years as alcohol consumption or exposure to unsafe water, and five times more than transport-related injuries.
In Asia, the most polluted region is India's Northern Plains, encompassing over half a billion residents. Shockingly, the average individual in this region could potentially lose eight years of life if the prevailing pollution levels persist. Delhi, the capital of India, stands as a glaring example, being labeled the most polluted megacity in the world. Each winter, the city witnesses smog levels that eclipse even the World Health Organization's guidelines, often by over 25 times.
Indonesia is no stranger to this menace either. Jakarta, its capital, which was recently named the world's most polluted city, has seen its leader, Joko Widodo, suffer from a persistent cough attributed to the suffocating air quality.
However, amidst the gloom, there is a silver lining. China, once a significant contributor to global pollution, has managed to reduce its unhealthy air levels by 42.3% since 2013. This remarkable achievement is a testament to the country's aggressive "war against pollution," resulting in an added 2.2 years to the average life expectancy of its citizens.
Yet, despite individual efforts by countries like China, the global response remains inadequate. As the report highlights, the investments in air quality infrastructure are not proportional to the magnitude of the threat. We have considerable funding to combat diseases like HIV/Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis, but the resources to fight air pollution remain abysmally low. There's an urgent need to rectify this discrepancy.
Dr. Christa Hasenkopf, director of AQLI, aptly sums up the situation, emphasizing the need for "timely, reliable, open air quality data." Such data serves as the foundation upon which both governments and civil societies can craft informed policies, ultimately ensuring cleaner, healthier air for everyone.
The findings of this study should not merely serve as cautionary tales but should galvanize global action. The air we breathe should nourish us, not diminish us. As we move forward, let us take collective responsibility to ensure a brighter, cleaner future for generations to come.
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