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New Delhi Is World's Most Polluted Capital: 480 Mn Indians To Lose 9 Years Life Expectancy

The number of vehicles on the road has increased about four-fold In in India and Pakistan since the early 2000s.

India's air pollution levels have expanded geographically over time, with about 40% of its population now on track to lose more than nine years of life expectancy, says a new research report.

Written By Longjam Dineshwori | Published : September 2, 2021 9:00 AM IST

Air pollution is responsible for about seven million premature deaths every year, largely from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections - according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Unfortunately, India is the most polluted country in the world. Alarmingly, the country's air pollution levels have expanded geographically over time, with more than 480 million people or about 40% of its population now on track to lose more than nine years of life expectancy, said a report released by a U.S. research group on Wednesday.

According to the report prepared by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), air quality has significantly worsened in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where an average person is now losing an additional 2.5 to 2.9 years of life expectancy relative to early 2000.

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The University of Chicago's Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report noted that India's average particulate matter concentration was 70.3 microgram per cubic metre ( g/m3) in 2019, the highest in the world and seven times the WHO's guideline of 10 g/m3. Northern India has the most extreme levels of air pollution in the world and if these pollution levels persist, the residents of this region are likely to lose more than nine years of life expectancy.

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New Delhi's residents regularly breathing toxic air

For the third consecutive year, New Delhi was ranked the world's most polluted capital in 2020 by IQAir, a Swiss group that measures air quality levels based on the concentration of PM2.5.

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More than 480 million people living in the Indo-Gangetic plains in the north, including the capital, New Delhi, regularly breathe pollution levels that exceed those found in Europe and North America by an order of magnitude, the report said.

Last year, New Delhi a significant reduction in air pollution in the summer because of coronavirus lockdown. But the air turned toxic again in winter due to a sharp increase in farm residue burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.

But particulate pollution is no longer concentrated in the Indo-Gangetic plains in the north alone. Pollution has increased drastically in the western state of Maharashtra and the central state of Madhya Pradesh as well.

Reasons behind South Asia's high pollution levels

As stated by the University of Chicago's report, South Asia is consistently the most polluted region in the world, accounting for 58% of total life years lost due to particulate pollution exceeding the WHO guideline. Because of high pollution levels, the lives of people living there are being shortened by an average of 5 years relative to what it would be if the region met the WHO guideline, and even more in the most polluted parts of the region like northern India, it said.

Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are among the top five most polluted countries in the world, accounting for nearly a quarter of the global population, it said.

Increasing number of vehicles, higher consumption of fossil fuels and more industrial activities are blamed for the rising particulate pollution, which the report described as the world's greatest threat to human health.

While the number of vehicles on the road has increased about four-fold In in India and Pakistan since the early 2000s, electricity generation from fossil fuels tripled from 1998 to 2017 in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan combined, as per the report.

In addition, crop burning, brick kilns, and other industrial activities have also increased leading to rising air pollution in the region, it added.

India's National Clean Air Program

India launched National Clean Air Program (NCAP) in 2019 to rein in dangerous pollution levels. It aims to reduce pollution in the 102 worst-affected cities by 20%-30% by 2024 by reducing industrial emissions, vehicular exhaust and dust pollution, introducing stringent rules for transport fuels and biomass burning, as well as establishing better monitoring systems.

By "achieving and sustaining" the NCAP goals, the EPIC report said that India would be able to raise the overall life expectancy of its people by 1.7 years and that of New Delhi 3.1 years.

According to the EPIC's findings, average life expectancy across Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan could be raised by 5.4 years if the countries improve air quality to levels recommended by the WHO.

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