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Report finds poor air quality is a ‘greater risk’ to human health than the coronavirus

While the world works tirelessly to combat the deadly coronavirus, a new report identifies the ‘greatest risk to human health’ – poor air quality. 

New data from the Air Quality Index (AQLI) reveals air pollution cuts global life expectancy by nearly two years.  

Nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives in just four south Asian countries that are among the most polluted – Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

AQLI found that these populations would see their lifespan cut by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels 44 percent higher than 20 years ago.

Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor and creator of the AQLI, said: ‘Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving—perhaps more in some places—embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigor would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives.’

‘The reality is, no shot in the arm will alleviate air pollution. The solution lies in robust public policy. ‘

‘The AQLI tells citizens and policymakers how particulate pollution is affecting them and their communities and can be used to measure the benefits of policies to reduce pollution.’

The Air Quality Index converts particulate air pollution, which mainly stems from the burning of fossil fuels, into its impact on human health and life expectancy.

Particles that spread from the pollution make their way into the body, which have ‘a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war,’ AQLI shares in the report.

The research also found that despite significant reductions in particulate matter in China, which was once one of the world’s most polluted countries, the overall level of air pollution had stayed stable over the past two decades.

In countries such as India and Bangladesh, air pollution was so severe that it now cuts average lifespans in some areas by nearly a decade.

Authors of the research said the quality of the air many humans breathe constituted a far higher health risk than the coronavirus. 

Particulate pollution was also a ‘significant concern’ across southeast Asia, where forest and crop fires were combining with traffic and power plant fumes to create toxic air.

Some 89 percent of the region’s 650 million people live in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines.

However, The most severe pollution, is plaguing parts of India, especially northern India, including the megacities of Delhi and Kolkata. 

While places such as the United States, Europe and Japan have succeeded in improving air quality, pollution still takes an average of two years off life expectancy worldwide, AQLI said.

Bangladesh was found to have the worst air quality of any country, and around 250 million residents of India’s northern states will lose eight years of life on average unless pollution is brought under control.

Several studies have shown exposure to air pollution is also a key COVID-19 risk factor, and Greenstone urged governments to prioritize air quality after the pandemic.

‘No shot in the arm will alleviate air pollution,’ said Greenstone.

‘The solution lies in robust public policy.’

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