Air pollution truncates average life expectancy in India by over five years, exposing a quarter of the country's population to contamination levels not seen in any other country. The findings were released in the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report, a tool developed by the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago (EPIC).
AQLI is a pollution index that assesses and quantifies the impact of particulate air pollution on human life expectancy.
The data showed that an average Indian's life is curtailed by more than five years, with respect to what it would if the World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines were met. The study further revealed that air pollution posed the greatest risk to human health before the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to remain so if the territories around the world don't turn to stricter clean air policies.
The AQLI report stated that particulate pollution in India has risen by 42 per cent in the last two decades. Currently, 84 per cent of Indians live in regions where the pollution levels surpass the country's own air quality standards, whereas the whole population is exposed to (pollution) levels that exceed the WHO guidelines, the data pointed out.
EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, who created the AQLI, said that although the "threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention, it is receiving, perhaps more in some places", there is a pressing need to fathom the gravity of the situation in the country. He underlined that "embracing the seriousness of air pollution" as much as the COVID-19 pandemic "would allow billions of people globally to lead longer and healthier lives".
Greenstone called for a robust public policy to reduce increasing air pollution.
The AQLI report underscored the situation at the state level too and noted that around 230 million residents of Uttar Pradesh are on track to lose over 8 years of life expectancy relative to WHO guidelines. People in Delhi might see more than nine years added to their lives if air pollution was reduced to fulfil the criteria set by the WHO through its guidelines.
Similarly, Bihar and West Bengal residents can add more than seven years to their lives, and people in Haryana can expect to live eight years longer.
The government had in 2018 launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to bring the particulate pollution down by 20-30 per cent relative to 2017 levels by 2024.
Although the NCAP's objectives are not obligatory, if India manages to accomplish and maintain this reduction, it would lead to extraordinary health improvements, said AQLI report.