Delhi residents could live 11.9 years longer on average if the city’s particulate pollution met the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s annual standard of 5 micrograms per cubic metres, according to an analysis of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) released on Tuesday.
All of India’s 1.3 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline limits. As much as 67.4% of the population lives in areas that exceed India’s own national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3, the analysis said.
Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is the greatest threat to human health in India, taking 5.3 years off the life of the average Indian. Cardiovascular diseases reduce the average Indian’s life expectancy by about 4.5 years. Child and maternal malnutrition reduces life expectancy by 1.8 years.
The analysis noted particulate pollution has increased over time. “From 1998 to 2021, average annual particulate pollution increased by 67.7%, further reducing average life expectancy by 2.3 years. From 2013 to 2021, 59.1% of the world’s increase in pollution has come from India.”
In a statement along with EPIC colleagues, Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) creator, said three-quarters of air pollution impact on global life expectancy occurs in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Indonesia. It added people in these six countries lose one to more than six years of their lives because of the air they breathe.
“For the last five years, the AQLI’s local information on air quality and its health consequences has generated substantial media and political coverage, but there is an opportunity to complement this annual information with more frequent—for example, daily—and locally generated data.”
In the most polluted region of the country—the Northern Plains—521.2 million residents or 38.9% of India’s population are on track to lose eight years of life expectancy on average relative to the WHO guideline and 4.5 years relative to the national standard if current pollution levels persist.
If India were to reduce particulate pollution to meet the WHO guideline, residents would gain 5.6 years of life expectancy in North 24 Parganas, India’s second most populous district.
India declared a “war against pollution” and launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) in 2019. NCAP originally aimed to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30% nationally relative to 2017 levels by 2024. It focused on 102 cities that did not meet the national annual average PM2.5 standard.