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Polluted air shortens life expectancy

14 November 2022
Polluted air shortens life expectancy

Dr Matiur Rahman :
Air is essential for life. But natural and man-made causes are polluting the air constantly. According to the World Health Organization, "air pollution is the accumulation of harmful substances in the Earth's atmosphere that harm people and their environment." Air pollution is more extensive and prevalent than other pollutants because wind can spread pollutants around in a short time.
A global study has found that long-term air pollution significantly impacts the average life expectancy of Bangladeshis.Researchers at the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) in Qatar say that Bangladeshis are losing an average of seven years of life due to pollution.
To determine the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) developed by EPIC, researchers analysed satellite data to calculate levels of PM2.5 (harmful particulate matter that damages the lungs) in the air.
Based on that report, Bangladesh has been identified as the most polluted country in the world. Four of the world's five most polluted countries in this air pollution index are in South Asia. And the world's most polluted capital in terms of air quality in New Delhi, India.
According to the research report, air pollution is reducing the global average life expectancy by two years per capita and the average life expectancy in South Asian countries by five years.
According to a Reuters report based on this study, 97 per cent of the world's people live in areas where air pollution exceeds the tolerable limit. And the role it plays in reducing the average life expectancy of people is much more than smoking, AIDS or terrorist attacks.
According to the EPIC research report, if the air pollution limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Bangladesh (5 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter) is applied, then the average life expectancy per capita in the country decreases to 6 years and 9 months. And in some areas, the pollution level is so high that the average life expectancy is reduced by 9 years.
Bangladesh has exceeded its limit (15 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter) and the WHO limit for air pollution. In Bangladesh, the researchers compared the reduction of life expectancy by about a year and a half due to child and maternal malnutrition and the reduction of life expectancy by a year and a half due to smoking to air pollution.
According to this Air Pollution Lifetime Index by the University of Chicago, residents of Dhaka, the most polluted city in Bangladesh, lose an average of 8 years of life. Life expectancy in Chittagong is decreasing to six and a half years.
According to the report, in all 64 districts of Bangladesh, pollutant particles in the air are more than the WHO's tolerable limit. Due to South Asia's large population and population density, the average life expectancy loss in the region is 52 per cent of the world's total. This is due to particulate pollutants in the air, which are much higher than the WHO recommended limits.
The research report has identified the presence of the most polluted air in some areas of India. Still, Bangladesh has been identified with the most air pollution overall. According to new satellite data, the presence of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air in Bangladesh in 2020 was 78.8 micrograms. Even during the ongoing lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, these pollutant particles increased by 13.1 per cent.
Another report revealed that "air pollution shortens life expectancy almost as much as tobacco use. Being one of the worst affected countries in the world in terms of air pollution, Bangladesh must take these findings seriously and try to reduce the factors behind air pollution.
Bangladesh and its capital Dhaka have repeatedly been in the news for some of the worst weather in recent years. In February this year, Dhaka's air was found to be the second most polluted in the world, recording an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 194, which is considered "bad" or "very unhealthy". According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, the country's average annual PM 2.5 concentration was 77.1 micrograms per cubic meter, more than double the WHO recommended level.
Naturally, this polluted air will affect human health as exposure to hazardous air can cause many short-term health problems. Several studies have shown that air pollution is directly linked to heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, lung infections and cancer. It is one of the top-risk factors for death and disability worldwide.
Air pollution can be controlled in different ways, such as by applying modern technology, fuel purification, public awareness of motor vehicle driving, control of smoke emissions from vehicles, etc.
Since the root causes of air pollution have already been identified, it is time for the authorities to formulate a concrete action plan to tackle this menace. Emergency mitigation measures must be prepared to save people from exposure to polluted air. Experts believe that through public and private efforts and increasing awareness, it is possible to reduce air pollution.

(The writer is a researcher and development worker).

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