AQLI report on pollution shortening Indian lives

Context: The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), estimates that fine particle pollution diminishes the average life expectancy of Indians by over five years. This comprehensive index, which links the longevity of individuals in over 200 countries to air quality, highlights that India is home to 77 of the most severely affected districts in terms of air quality.


More about the news: 

  • In recent years, epidemiological research has established a connection between poor air quality and an increased susceptibility to various forms of cancer, cognitive disorders, and developmental issues in children.
  • Notably, a Lancet study conducted last year estimated that in 2019, India experienced the loss of 1.67 million lives due to diseases resulting from the inhalation of hazardous levels of PM 2.5 particles.
  • The challenge lies in the fact that these plans often continue to rely on ineffective past approaches, including punitive measures, without adequately recognizing the link between environmental problems and the ensuing public health crisis.
  • For nearly a decade, Delhi, in particular, only took action against pollution when it reached emergency levels. Even now, the city has made insufficient efforts to address the structural issues that make achieving satisfactory air quality for 100 days a year a rarity, especially given the geographical constraints, particularly during winter when pollutants become trapped.
  • According to last year’s Lancet study, the economic losses resulting from pollution-related deaths and illnesses in 2019 amounted to nearly $37 billion, and a 2021 Dalberg report projected this figure could rise to $95 billion.
  • A country striving to become a $5 trillion economy cannot afford to neglect the well-being of its people.
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Important highlights from by AQLI report: 

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  • Regarding rankings, India holds the unfortunate second position among countries most severely impacted by air pollution, with Bangladesh topping the list, followed by Nepal in third place. 
  • Examining particulate pollution in South Asia reveals a concerning trend, with a 9.7 percent increase from 2013 to 2021. During this period, PM2.5 levels rose by 9.5 percent in India, 8.8 percent in Pakistan, and a significant 12.4 percent in Bangladesh.
  • In terms of pollution levels in India, they escalated from 56.2 µg/m3 in 2020 to 58.7 µg/m3 in 2021, exceeding the WHO guideline of 5 µg/m3 by more than tenfold.
  • When considering health risks, pollution emerges as the most substantial threat to human well-being in India, surpassing even cardiovascular diseases and child and maternal malnutrition in terms of its impact on life expectancy.
  • Particulate pollution alone reduces the average Indian’s life expectancy by 5.3 years, while cardiovascular diseases decrease it by approximately 4.5 years, and child and maternal malnutrition by 1.8 years.
  • Delhi, recognized as the world’s most polluted city, reported an annual average PM2.5 level of 126.5 µg/m3 in 2021, surpassing the World Health Organization’s guideline of 5 µg/m3 by more than 25 times.
  • If current pollution levels persist, Delhi residents are projected to lose an average of 11.9 years of life expectancy compared to the WHO standard and 8.5 years relative to the national guideline.

What is Particulate Matter?

  • Particulate matter, abbreviated as PM, refers to the assortment of particles present in the atmosphere, encompassing substances like dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and tiny liquid droplets. 
  • These particles remain suspended in the air for extended periods. Some of them are large or dark enough to be visible, resembling soot or smoke, while others are so minuscule that they can only be observed using an electron microscope.
  • Numerous natural and human-made sources release PM either directly or through the emission of other pollutants that react in the air and form PM.
  • Particles with a diameter less than 10 micrometers, often referred to as PM10, raise concerns for public health as they can be inhaled into the respiratory system and accumulate there.
  • Particles falling within the 2.5 to 10 micrometer diameter range are categorized as ‘coarse.’ 
  • Meanwhile, particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers, termed as PM2.5, are considered ‘fine’ particles and are believed to pose the most significant health risks.
  • Exposure to fine particles can lead to short-term health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, resulting in symptoms like coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and shortness of breath.
  • Additionally, exposure to fine particles can adversely affect lung function and exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions like asthma and heart disease.
  • Over the long term, prolonged exposure to fine particulate matter may be linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and increased mortality rates associated with lung cancer and heart disease.

What is Air Quality Life Index?

  • Annually, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) releases the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which serves as a pollution index that translates particulate air pollution into a crucial metric: its impact on life expectancy.
  • The AQLI is built upon recent research that quantifies the cause-and-effect relationship between prolonged human exposure to air pollution and its effect on life expectancy.
  • To create this index, the research findings are combined with highly localized global measurements of particulate matter.
  • It has incorporated the revised guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO). 
  • The WHO had updated its recommendations, lowering the acceptable limit for PM 2.5 from 10 micrograms per cubic meter to 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
  • The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) gauges the potential increase in life expectancy that communities could experience if they were to reduce air pollution levels in line with either the World Health Organization’s recommended guideline or their own national standards.
  • The WHO’s guideline deems annual exposure to particulate matter pollution as safe when it remains below 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³), and many countries also establish their own national air quality standards.

Previous Year Question (2016)

Q. In the cities of our country, which among the following atmospheric gases are normally considered in calculating the value of Air Quality Index?

1. Carbon dioxide

2. Carbon monoxide

3. Nitrogen dioxide

4. Sulfur dioxide

5. Methane

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 2, 3 and 4 only

(c) 1, 4 and 5 only

(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Answer: (b)

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