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June 14, 2022

Delhi Air Pollution Is Cutting Lives Shorter by Almost 10 years: Report

Over half a billion people from Punjab to West Bengal are on track to lose 7.6 years of life expectancy on average according to new data from the AQLI.
Chetan Bhattacharji

Delhi is the world’s most polluted city with air pollution shortening lives by almost 10 years, while in Lucknow it’s 9.5 years, according to the latest Air Quality Life Index by the Energy Policy Institute of University of Chicago (EPIC).
This is a pollution index that translates particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy.

The Indo-Gangetic Plain is the most polluted region in the world (see image below). Over half a billion people from Punjab to West Bengal are on track to lose 7.6 years of life expectancy on average, if current pollution levels persist according to the report.

This makes air pollution more lethal than smoking which reduces life expectancy by 1.5 years and child and maternal malnutrition’s 1.8 years.

While India is the second-most polluted country after Bangladesh, the immense Indo-Gangetic Plain is more polluted than it with PM 2.5 levels in 2020 measuring 76.2 micrograms/cubic metre vs 75.8 ug/m3. India’s average is far lower at 56.8 but take north India out of the equation, then the rest of India’s PM 2.5 level falls even lower to under 40 micrograms/cubic metre.

Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels measured 107.6, over ten times the WHO’s safe limit of just 5. PM 2.5 is an extremely tiny particulate matter made of toxic substances which settles deep in the lungs and other organs, beating the body’s defences.

The report’s authors call it the greatest global health threat with risks beginning right from the foetus stage.

Despite the lockdown, air pollution levels in India continued to rise in 2020, shortening the average Indian life expectancy by five years, compared to the global average of 2.2 years. This is a pan-South Asia crisis with levels rising in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.

The reasons are clear. In the last two decades or so, vehicular traffic and coal-fired power plants are up three to four times across the region. This has been compounded by crop burning, brick kilns and other industrial activity.

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