South Asia remains the world's most polluted region, with India ranking second

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Nikhil PandeyUpdated: Jun 14, 2022, 01:27 PM IST
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Dhaka Photograph:(AFP)

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All of Bangladesh’s 161 million people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds both the WHO guideline and the country’s own national standard.Particulate pollution has sharply increased over time. Since 1998, average annual particulate pollution has increased 39 percent, reducing the average life expectancy of a Bangladeshi citizen by 2.1 years.

In no other part of the world is pollution's devastating impact more obvious than in South Asia, which bears more than half of the world's pollution burden. If the current high levels of pollution continue, residents are predicted to lose around 5 years on average, and more in the most contaminated areas. India has accounted for almost 44 per cent of the global rise in pollution since 2013.

Globally, India is the second- most polluted country in the world after Bangladesh, where life expectancy was reduced by 6.9 years in 2020 due to polluted air. India's neighbours, Nepal and Pakistan, are also reeling from air pollution, reducing life expectancies by 4.1 years and 3.8 years, respectively.

Bangladesh is now the most polluted country on the planet. The typical Bangladeshi's life expectancy is cut by 6.7 years compared to what it would be if the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines were followed. Bangladesh has substantially worse air pollution than the rest of the country, with the most polluted district reducing life expectancy by 8.1 years.

Particulate pollution kills more people than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, as well as behavioural killers like cigarette smoking and even war. Some parts of the globe are hit harder than others. 

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For example, in the United States, where pollution is lower, life expectancy is reduced by only 0.1 years compared to the WHO standard. 

Bringing particle concentrations down to the WHO limit would enhance average life expectancy by 2.6 and 5.9 years in China and India, respectively, where pollution levels are substantially higher.

What are the health consequences of particulate air pollution?

Particulate matter (PM) refers to solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, such as soot, smoke, and dust. PM particles enter the respiratory system along with the oxygen that the body requires when the air is polluted with them.

When PM is inhaled by the nose or mouth, the fate of each particle is determined by its size: the finer the particles, the deeper they penetrate into the body. PM10 particles, which have a diameter of less than 10 micrometres (m) and are included in estimates of "total suspended matter" (TSP), are small enough to pass through the nasal hairs.

They proceed through the respiratory tract and into the lungs, where the metal elements on the particles' surfaces oxidise lung cells, causing DNA damage and raising cancer risk.


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