Research

Children in South Asia hardest hit by air pollution

Children in South Asia hardest hit by air pollution

Roy Choudhury said the major concerns were the extremely high levels of household pollution, reduction of life expectancy because of air pollution, and the large number of deaths from diabetes linked to air pollution.

The State of the Global Air 2019 report looks at air pollution caused by three of the most problematic pollutants: fine particles (PM2.5), ozone and household (indoor) air pollution.

"Air pollution exposures collectively reduce life expectancy by 20 months on average worldwide", University of Texas assistant professor Joshua Apte wrote in the report.

The overall long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to almost five million deaths from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, and chronic lung disease in 2017.

South Asia - Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan - is the most polluted region, with over 1.5 million air-pollution related deaths.

The report published by Health Effects Institute (HEI) added that worldwide, air pollution was responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol use, and physical inactivity.

"In much of the world, just breathing in an average city is the health equivalent to being a heavy smoker", he said. "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.

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Robert O'Keefe, vice-president, Health Effects Institute, acknowledged that India had initiated steps such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (an LPG programme), accelerated Bharat Stage VI clean vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme, but observed that these need to be fully implemented.

Ten countries with the highest mortality burden attributable to air pollution in 2017 were 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), the report states.

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

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

Broadly, this disparity between less and more developed countries on this form of pollution is seen across the world, with developing countries suffering PM2.5 exposures that are four to five times those of more-developed countries.

The State of Global Air 2018 report estimated that if air pollution levels were brought within the United Nations health body's guidelines, Nepal's average life expectancy would increase by 4.4 years.

The World Health Organization has revealed that 91 per cent of the global population live in parts of the world where the air quality exceeds safety guidelines, which includes criteria such as mould and dampness inside a home as well as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.