India is today the world’s second most polluted country. Air pollution shortens the average Indian life expectancy by 6.3 years, relative to what it would be if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was met; 3.4 years relative to what it would be if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard. Some areas of India fare much worse than average, with air pollution shortening lives by more than 10 years in Delhi and its surrounding region.
- All of India’s 1.4 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline. Ninety-four percent live in areas where it exceeds India’s own air quality standard.
- Particulate pollution has sharply increased over time. Since 1998, average annual particulate pollution has increased 22 percent, cutting 1.3 years off the life of the average resident over those years.
- A quarter of India’s population is exposed to pollution levels not seen in any other country, with 248 million residents of northern India on track to lose more than 8 years of life expectancy if pollution levels persist.
- Lucknow, the capital of India’s northern state Uttar Pradesh, has the highest level of pollution in the country, with pollution 13 times greater than the WHO guideline. Residents of Lucknow stand to lose 12.1 years of life expectancy if pollution persists.
- India’s capital Delhi is also highly polluted. Residents of Delhi could see 13 years added to their lives if pollution were reduced to meet the WHO guideline; 10 years if pollution met India’s national standard.
In recent years, the people of India are recognizing that air pollution is a problem, and the government is beginning to respond. In 2019, the central government declared a “war on pollution” and announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). The goal of the Programme is to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 percent relative to 2017 levels by 2024. Though the NCAP’s goals are nonbinding, if India does achieve and sustain this reduction, it would lead to remarkable health improvements: a nationwide reduction of 25 percent, the midpoint of the NCAP’s target, would increase India’s national life expectancy by 1.8 years, and by 3.5 years for residents of Delhi.