Air pollution is more dangerous to the health of the average person on planet Earth than smoking or alcohol, with the threat worsening in the global epicenter of South Asia, although China is improving fast. That was the result of a benchmark study on Tuesday.
However, according to a study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the amount allocated to meet the challenge is only a fraction of the amount allocated to fight infectious diseases.
The annual Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report showed that air pollution is caused by particulate matterWildfires and more – remains the “biggest external public health threat”.
If the world were to permanently reduce these pollutants to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) benchmark, the average human life expectancy would increase by 2.3 years, according to the data. The limit applies for the year 2021. That adds up to 17.8 billion years of life saved, the researchers emphasize.
Particulate matter is linked to lung disease, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
In comparison, tobacco use reduces global life expectancy by 2.2 years, while child and maternal malnutrition is responsible for a 1.6 year reduction.
“The impact of (particulate matter air pollution) on global life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, more than three times that of alcohol consumption and unsafe water, more than five times that of transportation accidents such as car accidents, and more than seven times that that of HIV/AIDS,” says the report.
Asia and Africa bear the heaviest burden but have the weakest infrastructure to deliver timely and accurate data to citizens. You also get small slices of an already small global philanthropic pie.
For example, the entire African continent receives less than $300,000 for air pollution control.
“There is a profound disconnect between where air pollution is worst and where we are pooling resources globally to fix the problem,” Christa Hasenkopf, director of air quality programs at EPIC, told Agence France-Presse.
While there is an international funding partnership called the Global Fund that disburses $4 billion annually for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, there is no equivalent for air pollution.
“Yet air pollution shortens the life of an average person by more years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Cameroon than HIV/AIDS, malaria and other health threats,” the report said.
Globally, South Asia is the most affected region. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are in turn the four most polluted countries by annual population-weighted average levels of satellite-detected particulate matter, defined as particles 2.5 microns in diameter or less ( PM2, 5).
Air pollution concentrations then feed into the AQLI metric, which uses peer-reviewed methods to calculate their impact on life expectancy.
Residents of Bangladesh, where the average PM2.5 level was 74 micrograms per cubic metre, would gain 6.8 more years of life if WHO guidelines of 5 micrograms per cubic meter were met.
Meanwhile, India's capital Delhi is the “most polluted megacity in the world” with an annual average fine dust pollution of 126.5 micrograms per cubic meter.
China, on the other hand, has made “remarkable progress in the fight against air pollution,” which began in 2014, Hasenkopf said.
Air pollution fell by 42.3 percent between 2013 and 2021. If improvements continue, the average Chinese citizen will be able to live 2.2 years longer.
In the United States, government policies like the Clean Air Act have helped reduce pollution by 64.9 percent since 1970 and helped Americans live 1.4 years longer.
But the growing threat of— associated with hotter temperatures and drier conditions due to – cause pollution spikes from the western United States to Latin America and Southeast Asia.
For example, during California's historic 2021 wildfire season, Plumas County recorded average levels of particulate matter more than five times the WHO guideline.
North America's history of improving air pollution over the past few decades is similar to Europe's, but major disparities remain between Western and Eastern Europe, with Bosnia being the continent's most polluted country.