An analysis of data from the Air Quality Life Index, conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) finds that particulate pollution cuts global life expectancy by nearly two years, relative to what it would be if air quality met the World Health Organization guideline.
Air pollution is a major threat to billions of people worldwide and amid the global coronavirus pandemic researchers have preliminary identified a positive correlation between COVID-19-related mortalities and air pollution.
The analysis reveals that particulate pollution was the greatest risk to human health before COVID-19 and unless, there is strong and sustained public policy, it will be after COVID-19.
Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more demolishing impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.
Particulate pollution is a significant concern in Southeast Asia as nearly a quarter of the global population lives in four countries in South Asia that are among the world's most polluted: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
People living in these countries could see their lives cut short by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels that are now 44 percent higher than they were two decades ago.
Vehicles, power plants and industry combine with forest and cropland fires are the traditional pollution sources in these countries where particulate pollution exceeds the WHO guideline.
High pollution across the entirety of Bangladesh makes it the most polluted country in the world. However, the most severe pollution is found in parts of India, especially northern India, including the megacities of Delhi and Kolkata.
The good news is that many countries have decided to take action and are succeeding in cleaning the air.
The United States, Europe and Japan have likewise experienced success in reducing pollution as strong policies were made to came on the heels of public calls for change. China sets an exquisite example by starting a "war against pollution" in 2013. Since then, three-quarters of the world's reductions in pollution have come from China. It has reduced particulate pollution by nearly 40 percent. If these reductions are sustained, Chinese citizens can expect to live about two years longer than they would have prior to the reforms.
“As countries today try to balance the dual goals of economic growth and environmental quality, the historical lesson from around the world is that policy can reduce air pollution in a wide variety of political contexts,” said Michael Greenstone, director of EPIC . “The AQLI makes clear that the benefits are measured in longer and healthier lives.”
Air pollution in Bangladesh
Despite efforts by the government, Bangladesh’s citizens continue to breathe in the most polluted air in the world exposing themselves to various diseases in addition to financial loss.
The situation is so bad that Bangladesh was ranked as the most polluted country in the world for PM2.5 exposure, according to 2019 World Air Quality Report by IQAir published Tuesday.
As Bangladesh has long been grappling with air pollution, the High Court, at one point, even observed that it was time to declare Dhaka, the sprawling overcrowded megacity, as an “ecologically critical area” due to widespread pollution, and issued a nine-point directive to bring down air pollution.
Experts say the air has become very harmful due to discharge of dust from unplanned construction works, metro-rail project, road repair, installation of utility lines, smoke from vehicles and brick kilns.
A 2016 World Bank report said air pollution has emerged as the deadliest form of pollution and fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide. Deaths caused by air pollution cost the global economy a staggering $225 billion.
WHO estimates show that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. In a report, the UN health agency said that around 93 percent children under 15 breathe polluted air every day.