Pakistan is today the world’s fourth most polluted country. Air pollution shortens the average Pakistani’s life expectancy by 4.3 years, relative to what it would have been if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was met. Some areas of Pakistan fare much worse than average, with air pollution shortening lives by almost 7 years in the most polluted areas.
- All of Pakistan’s 212 million people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline. Ninety-nine percent live in areas where it exceeds Pakistan’s own air quality standard.
- Particulate pollution has increased over time. Since 1998, average annual particulate pollution has increased 20 percent, cutting 0.9 years off the lives of the average Pakistan resident over those years.
- The most polluted areas of the country are in southern Punjab and northern Sindh, where residents would gain more than 5 years of life expectancy if particulate pollution were permanently reduced to the WHO guideline.
- In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, residents would gain 3.6 years. In Lahore, the second largest city, residents would gain 5 years. Residents of the capital of Islamabad would gain 4 years.
The dual challenges of economic growth and environmental quality faced by Pakistan 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 1.4 years if the reductions persist. Pakistan has the opportunity to experience the same progress. If Pakistan were to achieve the same reduction in pollution experienced by China, its residents could live 1.6 years longer.