MARCH 6, 2022
NEW DELHI: Around 93% of India’s population is living in areas where levels of hazardous particulate matter PM2.5 are worse than the World Health Organisation’s least stringent norms and air pollution reduces life expectancy in the country by 1.5 years (more than cancer), according to reports of US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) released on Thursday. It flagged that air pollution accounts for more than one in nine deaths globally.
Its findings also show that India ranks fifth with 93% of its population exposed, following Egypt (1st), Pakistan (2nd), Bangladesh (3rd) with 100% of their population exposed and Nigeria on 4th with 95% population exposed to fine particulate matter. If one looks at the WHO’s new norms of five micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as announced last year, no country in the world currently meets these new guidelines.
The HEI, funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the industry, and development banks, found that with an average annual population-weighted PM2.5 of 83 µg/m3 in 2019, as many as 9,79,700 deaths in India can be attributed to the fine particulate matter.
“In India, the life expectancy reduction from exposure to ambient PM2.5 (1.51 years) is greater than from all cancers (1.39 years),” said the report, noting ambient and household PM2.5 pollution have a combined impact on life expectancy that is of a magnitude comparable to largest threats to human health and longevity.
In 2019, over seven million deaths annually were linked to exposure of various pollutants in the world with the WHO claiming that around 80% of deaths were attributed to PM2.5 exposure. Among all classical pollutants, inhalable PM2.5 is considered the most hazardous. The WHO had last year cut its guideline for annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in half, from 10 ug/m3 to just 5 ug/m3.
“Many less developed and poorer countries face an extreme challenge in improving their air quality because they face the double burden of ambient PM2.5 air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels as well as household air pollution from indoor fires for cooking and heating. These regions and countries with the highest levels of air pollution would benefit the most from pollution reductions. Even small reductions in air pollution can provide health benefits and improved life expectancy,” said the report while referring to the impact of air pollution on life expectancy.