31/10/2019 11:14 AM IST | Updated 31/10/2019 11:34 AM IST

Air Pollution Will Kill People In North And East India Up To 7 Years Earlier

Particulate pollution in North and East India has doubled since 1998, leading to plummeting life expectancy for residents, says a new study by the University of Chicago.

File photo of a schoolgirl with a mask to fight pollution and participate in a demonstration to demand clean air in New Delhi, India, 

NEW DELHI—Residents of the largest north and east Indian states will live upto seven years less on average because of an increase in air pollution, between 1998 to 2016, that vastly exceeded the World Health Organisation’s limit set in its guideline on particulate pollution, says an analysis by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. 

The WHO guideline states that reducing particulate pollution to 10 cubic metre per year will ensure that people live longer. But states on the Indo-Gangetic plain, which includes large and prosperous northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, as well as eastern states like Bihar and West Bengal, exceeded this guideline limit from 1998 to 2016, with a cumulatively increased air pollution of 72%.

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Further, each state exceeded the WHO limit for particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) in varying degrees—from the 49 cubic metre in West Bengal to 114 cubic metres in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the analysis showed.

“In Indo-Gangetic Plain states, the potential life expectancy lost from sustained exposure to the PM2.5 concentration in 1998 was 3.7 years relative to if the WHO guideline was met. By 2016, it had increased to 7.1 years,” Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Director of the Energy Policy Institute told Huffpost India

PM 2.5 is among the most dangerous air pollutants. These tiny particles, invisible to the naked eye, could cause premature death by causing heart and lung disease after entering the respiratory system. 

In simpler terms, this analysis states is that in 1998, the PM 2.5 level increased to such an extent that the life of an average person living in one of the states on the Indo-Gangetic plain region was shortened by 3.7 years from what it would have been if the WHO guideline was followed. Similarly, by 2016, the institute’s analysis shows, the number of years lost increased to 7.1 years from what the number would have been if the WHO guideline was followed. 

The analysis conducted by Greenstone and his team is based on data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which has been developed to quantify how life expectancy of human beings is impacted by their exposure to air pollution.

Other Parts of India Did Better

According to data from analysis shared with HuffPost India, all other parts of the country did relatively better during the 18 year period, from 1998 to 2016. 

One document with details of the key findings of the analysis said, “In comparison, lower concentrations of pollution in the rest of the country are allowing residents to live longer than those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. If 1998 levels of pollution had continued over a lifetime, residents would have lost an average of 1.2 years of life expectancy. Because of a 65 percent increase in pollution, sustained exposure in 2016 is cutting short life expectancy by 2.6 years, relative to the WHO guideline.”

This comes at a time when Delhi is choking because of the air pollution. On Monday, the day after Diwali, Delhi’s air was worse compared to the day after Diwali in 2018, thanks to the use of firecrackers by the city’s residents. 

A day later, on Tuesday, data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed that air quality in five north Indian cities including Delhi was worsening. 

Hope From The NCAP?

Not all data in the analysis is grim, though. According to the analysis document quoted earlier, if the Narendra Modi government’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is successful in meeting its stated goal of reducing  particulate pollution by 20-30% nationally over the next five years, it “would produce substantial benefits, extending the life expectancy of the average Indian by about 1.3 years. Those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain would gain about 2 years onto their lives.”

Data In Hindi

Given that a large number of Hindi speakers are directly impacted by air pollution in India, the institute has now made the AQLI accessible in Hindi. 

“With the addition of this Hindi version, hundreds of millions more users will be able to learn how particulate pollution is affecting their lives, and, importantly, how air pollution policies can make an enormous difference in increasing life expectancy,” Greenstone said.