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Effects of Air Pollution on Humans: Lower Life Expectancy- Report

by Olivia Lai Africa Americas Asia Europe Oceania Sep 7th 20213 mins
Effects of Air Pollution on Humans: Lower Life Expectancy- Report

Air pollution is slashing years off billions of people’s lives globally where people living in India, Central and West Africa are losing more than 5 years of life expectancy to fossil fuel burning. A new report reveals one of the undeniable effects of air pollution on humans is a lower life expectancy. 

Air pollution is cutting years from the lives of billions of people around the world and is a greater threat to life expectancy than smoking, HIV/AIDS or war, according to a new report published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).

The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) reveals that India is home to the highest levels of air pollution in the world where its residents lose an average 5.9 years from their lives. The remaining top four countries with the worst air pollution are all located in Asia. Bangladeshi people lose an average of 5.4 years of life expectancy as a result of poor air quality, followed by Nepal at 5 years; Pakistan at 3.9 years; and Singapore at 3.8 years. 

Southeast Asian metropolises in particular, are incredibly vulnerable to air pollution. Air quality in cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Jakarta struggle to meet WHO guidelines, and are losing up to 5 years in life expectancy should pollution levels remain at their current rate. 

Air pollution is also a rapidly rising threat in Central and West Africa. At the moment, more than 94% of the people are breathing in air that exceeds WHO guidelines, which shortens average life expectancy by 2-5 years. The highly harmful rates of air pollution makes it larger threat to human health than “well-known killers like HIV/AIDS and malaria.”

You might also like: How Air Pollution Contributes to the Spread of COVID-19

Burning fossil fuels has long been linked as a cause of air pollution. While some countries enjoyed a brief respite from it thanks to national lockdowns and reduced road traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, cities like Chicago, New York, and Boston – which tend to enjoy cleaner air compared to others – suffered greater levels of pollution and smoke due to an increase of wildfires, which has been exacerbated by drier climates and global temperature increase. 

China was cited as a model of progress in reducing air pollution. Just a few years ago, China was the country with the worst air pollution on the planet with 2013 reaching its highest pollution levels. Following overwhelming public criticism, the country enacted strict policy action to improve air quality. Within six years, particulate pollution has declined by 29%, adding 1.5 years back onto the average life expectancy of Chinese citizens, a record pace which took countries like the US and Europe decades to achieve. 

The report makes it clear: air pollution is caused by the use and production of fossil fuels, and “is not only a global challenge, but is also intertwined with climate change.” Lowered life expectancy may be one of the most devastating effects of air pollution on humans, but the report strongly believes we can reverse the trend should world leaders take up strong policies to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.“Without strong policies to reduce fossil fuels and bring global air pollution levels down to meet the WHO guideline, billions of life-years will be lost.” 

Featured image by: Trần Khắc Đạt


About the Author

Olivia Lai

Olivia is a journalist and editor based in Hong Kong with previous experience covering politics, art and culture. She is passionate about wildlife and ocean conservation, with a keen interest in climate diplomacy. She’s also a graduate of University of Edinburgh in International Relations with a Master’s degree from The University of Hong Kong in Journalism. Olivia was the former Managing Editor at Earth.Org.

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