Air pollution to shorten children's lives by 20 months, report says

Christopher Davidson
April 5, 2019

Air pollution will shorten the life expectancy of children by 20 months on average, with kids in South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan most vulnerable, a new report says.

The State of Global Air 2019 report looks at how long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution has affected health. Life-expectancy estimates is a new feature in this year's report. Air pollution reduced life expectancy by one year and eight months on average worldwide, the report said. "The largest numbers of deaths were in India (482,000) where 60% of the population cooks with solid fuels, followed by China (271,000) where 32% of the population does".

In the past few years, pollution levels have peaked at unhealthy and hazardous levels in the Kathmandu Valley, increasing health risks for citizens.

Air pollution accounts for 41% of global deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 20% from type 2 diabetes, 19% from lung cancer, 16% from ischaemic heart disease, and 11% of deaths from stroke, according to the report, described as the most systematic annual study of the health effects of global air pollution.

Over 1.2 million people died in India due to air pollution in 2017, said a global report on air pollution on Wednesday. In 1990, air pollution killed 1.32 million people in China compared with 1.02 million people in India. Another global study by Greenpeace released on 5 March this year cited Delhi-NCR as the most polluted capital city in the world, and Gurugram, the most polluted city.

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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).

A Supreme Court order in January a year ago had directed authorities to immediately curb air pollution and effectively implement national standards of vehicle emissions and ensure air quality standards in the spirit of the constitution but there has been no government action. Each of the two countries - India and China - registered over 1.2 million deaths in 2017 from air pollution - which includes ambient as well as household air pollution.

And while the quality of it has been poor over the years, India and China appear to be particularly susceptible to its disease burden, as is clearly visible in the relative pollution levels and disease burden in countries neighbouring India (see slider below).

Some of the risks for children from exposure to air pollution are potential damage to brain development, limited lung capacity and the onset of problems like asthma, he said. Could a report titled "State of the Global Air" with 21 mentions of India in the text of a 24-page report turn some heads, draw attention to the alarming health crisis brewing in the country?

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