Toxic air pollution to shorten children’s lives by 20 months, report says

Olive Hawkins
April 5, 2019

It shows that breathing toxic air - both inside and outside the home - will cut the life expectancy of a baby born today by an average of 20 months, compared to a 21-month fall in life expectancy in a smoker.

The State of Global Air 2019 report, prepared by the non-profit Health Effects Institute, reveals that India and China recorded about 1.2 million deaths triggered by air pollution each in 2017 (the year the study considered).

The reports brought to the fore ten countries with the highest mortality burden in 2017, China (1.2 million), India (1.2 million), Pakistan (128,000), Indonesia (124,000), Bangladesh (123,000), Nigeria (114,000), the United States (108,000), Russian Federation (99,000), Brazil (66,000) and the Philippines (64,000).

Worldwide too, more people globally die from air pollution related diseases than from road traffic injuries, malaria, malnutrition, alcohol use or physical inactivity.

A recent Greenpeace study put seven Indian cities among the top 10 most polluted global cities in terms of PM2.5 levels.

Last year's SOGA study found dirty air was almost ubiquitous among the global population, with more than 90% of people worldwide breathing in unsafe air, the result of industrial expansion, increasing traffic and exposure to indoor pollution from solid-fuel cooking fires. "The analysis found that China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths, with each country facing over 1.2 million deaths from all air pollution in 2017", the report said. When the air is thick with PM pollution, tiny particles enter the respiratory system, increasing the risk of cancer, heart attack and stroke. About 60 per cent of India's population was exposed to household pollution, followed by China with 32 per cent.

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"Out of these, 3 million deaths are directly attributed to PM2.5, half of which is from India and China together".

It also concluded that children are more vulnerable to air pollution since they breathe more rapidly than adults, which results in more inhalation of pollutants. Robert O'Keefe, vice president, Health Effects Institute, Boston, says: "India has initiated major steps to address pollution sources: the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG programme, accelerated Bharat Stage VI vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme".

Globally, there has been progress: the proportion of people cooking with solid fuels has declined as economies develop.

"(The report) is a reminder to us indicating that our efforts and actions to reduce the invisible killer, i.e., air pollution are not enough, and we need to do much more than already planned and done", Pujarini Sen, a Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace India, said.

The State of Global Air report is an annual report implemented by the HEI in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, University of British Columbia and University and Texas.

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