Bangladesh is today the world’s most polluted country. Air pollution shortens the average Bangladeshi’s life expectancy by 6.7 years, relative to what it would have been if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was met. Some areas of Bangladesh fare much worse than average, with air pollution shortening lives by 8.1 years in the most polluted district.
- All of Bangladesh’s 161 million people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds both the WHO guideline and the country’s own national standard.
- Particulate pollution has sharply increased over time. Since 1998, average annual particulate pollution has increased 39 percent, reducing the average life expectancy of a Bangladeshi citizen by 2.1 years.
- In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guideline. The most polluted areas of the country are the divisions of Dhaka and Khulna (which include the country’s first and third largest cities), where the average resident is exposed to pollution levels are more than eight times the WHO guideline— cutting life expectancy by about 8 years.
- Even in the second largest city of Chittagong, where air quality is better than the national average, residents still lose 4.8 years off their lives relative to if the WHO guideline were met.
The dual challenges of economic growth and environmental quality faced by Bangladesh today are no different from those once confronted by other countries during periods of industrialization. Nor is this dynamic limited to the world’s wealthiest countries.
China has made tremendous progress since declaring a “war against pollution” in 2014, with cities cutting particulate pollution by about 30 percent—improving life expectancy by 1.5 years if the reductions persist. India, having declared its own war against pollution in January 2019, has likewise declared an ambitious target of 20-30 percent reduction. If it achieves a 25 percent reduction in pollution nationwide, it has the potential to improve life expectancy by 1.8 years.
Bangladesh has the opportunity to experience the same progress. If Bangladesh were to achieve the same reduction in pollution experienced by China, its residents could live 1.9 years longer.