If the world reduced PM2.5 to meet the WHO’s guideline, people would live 2.3 years longer

The new Air Quality Life Index, which is produced by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago has been published and, as ever, it contains some startling headline figures relating to the effect of air quality around the world.

As you’ve already read, globally reducing fine particulate pollution to meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines, the average person would add 2.3 years onto their life expectancy—or a combined 17.8 billion life-years saved worldwide. 

Earth with clouds above the African continent

The figures focus unrelentingly on the iniquity of suffering from air pollution. Of all lives lost to poor air quality, over 92.7% of them are in Asia and Africa, yet, just 6.8% (Asia) and 3.7% (Africa) of governments provide their citizens with fully open air quality data. And in Africa, just 4.9% of countries have air quality standards.

These iniquities are exacerbated by the disproportionate delivery of philanthropic funding to battle air pollution. The whole of Africa receives $300,000 whereas, according to Clean Air Fund figures, projects in Europe and North America received $34m

Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and c0-creator of the AQLI said: ‘Three-quarters of air pollution’s impact on global life expectancy occurs in just six countries, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Indonesia, where people lose [from] one to more than six years off their lives because of the air they breathe.

‘For the last five years, the AQLI’s local information on air quality and its health consequences has generated substantial media and political coverage, but there is an opportunity to complement this annual information with more frequent—for example, daily—and locally generated data’

Amongst the gloom, there are stories of remarkable success which show what can be done. In China, people are still suffering from air quality that exceeds WHO limits quite spectacularly but, thanks to the ‘War Against Pollution’ that began in 2013,  there has been a 42.3% fall in pollution, boosting  the average Chinese citizen’s life expectancy by over two years.

Four countries in Africa are among the ten most polluted in the world: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Republic of Congo. In some parts of these regions, pollution levels are 12 times the WHO guideline, taking as much as 5.4 years off lives— and becoming as much of a health threat as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

The report concludes that particulate pollution remains ‘the world’s greatest external risk to human health’, with the impact on life expectancy comparable to that of smoking but of course, it is an impact felt n some parts of the world more than others. 


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10 months ago

I’m not interested in gaining a couple more years of life, especially not if I’m very poorly by then. What matters more is lessening the pain and suffering before we, and our children, die – of lung dieases and all the rest that is associated with air pollution. .Quite apart from the hgealht issues and personal costs, such as loss of jobs, income and independence ,there’s the heavy financial load on already overstretched medical services.

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