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Air Pollution Is Shortening the Lifespan of South Asian Kids

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Apr 3, 2019

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Image courtesy of The Indian Express

In South Asia, a child born today will lose 30 months off their lifespan to toxic air, warns a new, landmark study.

India and other countries in South Asia will see the deepest cuts to life expectancy. The global average is a lifespan curtailed by 20 months, according the study’s calculations; children in developed countries will only lose five months or fewer of life to toxic air, however.

The new finding on pollution’s effect on lifespan “adds to a bleak picture of how polluted air impacts the health of society’s most vulnerable groups, particularly children,” Alastair Harper, the head of campaigns and advocacy at Unicef UK, told The Guardian. “Evidence continues to mount showing a relationship between exposure to toxic air and low birthweight, reduced lung development and childhood asthma.”

“The State of Global Air,” a collaboration by North American institutions the Health Effects Institute, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and the University of British Columbia, is an annual analysis of the latest data on air quality and related global disease burden. It is considered by many to be the most thorough study of the health effects of air pollution.


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India faces the dual problem of outdoor and indoor air pollution. With nearly twice the rate of exposure to PM2.5, a microscopic air particulate that can impair lung and cardiovascular function and development, as China, Indian metros routinely feature on lists of the world’s most polluted cities. Earlier this month, a ranking by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace included seven Indian cities in the top 10 cities around the world with the worst air quality; the top 30 most polluted cities list included 22 Indian metros.

Indoor air pollution compounds the problem, with many households still relying on the burning of organic material for cooking and heating.

While India does have in place policies that regulate industry emissions, and incentives and restrictions around transport emissions, experts say they are not enough. A joint study by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) in New Delhi suggests that even with current pollution polcies perfectly implemented, more than 674 million Indians will still be breathing highly polluted air in 2030.

The issue of air pollution is likely to be one of many at the forefront of coming elections, with the Congress party calling air quality a “national public health emergency” in its 2019 manifesto; in the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has signaled it prioritizes economic development over pollution concerns.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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