A recent report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) sheds light on the severe consequences of air pollution on life expectancy in South Asia.

The report reveals that rising air pollution in South Asia, home to countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, can lead to a reduction of over five years in life expectancy for its inhabitants.


Years of Life Lost to Pollution


The EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index report underscores the gravity of the situation by revealing that more than half of the global life years lost due to pollution occur in South Asia. This region, grappling with rapid industrialization and population growth, is facing a dire scenario where air quality has declined significantly. Notably, particulate pollution levels have surged by over 50% since the turn of the century, surpassing the dangers posed by even larger health threats.

Among the countries within South Asia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan face particularly alarming challenges. Bangladesh, for instance, ranks as the most polluted country in the world, with its residents projected to lose an average of 6.8 years of life due to pollution. To put this into perspective, the average life expectancy loss due to pollution in the United States is just 3.6 months.

India shoulders a substantial portion of the global pollution burden, accounting for approximately 59% of the increase in pollution since 2013. The report highlights that hazardous air quality has the potential to further reduce life expectancy in some of the most polluted regions of the country. Cities like New Delhi, often referred to as the world’s most polluted mega-city, are grappling with a life span reduction of more than 10 years.


A Path Forward: Meeting WHO Guidelines


The report emphasizes that adhering to air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) could have a profound impact on life expectancy. Reducing levels of PM 2.5, lung-damaging airborne particles, to WHO-recommended levels could extend the average global life expectancy by 2.3 years, translating to a staggering 17.8 billion combined life years.

The report provides country-specific insights as well. For example, a resident of Pakistan could gain 3.9 years of life by meeting the WHO guidelines on PM 2.5 concentration. Similarly, in Nepal, adherence to these guidelines could extend life expectancy by 4.6 years.

While the situation in South Asia remains dire, it’s worth noting the progress made by other countries. China, for instance, managed to reduce its pollution levels by an impressive 42.3% between 2013 and 2021. This achievement highlights the importance of governments taking proactive measures to combat pollution and generate accessible air quality data. Such efforts are crucial to bridging global inequalities in combating this environmental menace.

The EPIC’s report serves as a wakeup call, underlining the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address air pollution in South Asia. The region’s population is facing a tangible threat to their life expectancy, with hazardous air quality impacting health and well-being. Governments, policymakers, and communities must come together to reduce pollution levels, adhere to global guidelines, and work toward a cleaner and healthier future for all.

Photo: Hafiz Noor Shams