A new analysis of the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), produced by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), shows the average citizen living in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) region of India can expect to lose about 7 years of life expectancy because air quality fails to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline for fine particulate pollution. This is due to a 72 percent increase in pollution from 1998 to 2016 in the region that is home to about 40 percent of India’s population. In 1998, the impact on people’s lives would have been half of what it is today, with residents losing 3.7 years of life expectancy.
While air pollution is a challenge throughout much of India, the high levels of particulate pollution in the IGP region of north India, which includes Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, stand out. In 1998, citizens living outside of the IGP region would have seen their lives cut short by 1.2 years relative to what it would have been if air quality met the WHO guideline. That number has grown to 2.6 years—also worsening but much more modest than what has taken place in the IGP.
The findings were announced as the full platform of the AQLI was made accessible in Hindi, expanding the Index’s ability to inform citizens and policymakers about particulate air pollution—the greatest threat to human health globally.
“With the addition of this Hindi version, hundreds of millions more users will be able to learn how particulate pollution is affecting their lives, and, importantly, how air pollution policies can make an enormous difference in increasing life expectancy,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).
If India is successful in meeting its goals under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), and sustaining pollution reductions of about 25 percent, the AQLI shows that such improvements in air quality would extend the life expectancy of the average Indian by 1.3 years. Those in the IGP would gain about 2 years onto their lives.
Speaking at the Hindi AQLI launch event in New Delhi on 31st October, Shri Gaurav Gogoi, Member of Parliament and World Economic Forum, Young Global Leader said, “I am working towards introducing a private member’s bill to come up with a new Clean Air (Amendment) Act where health impacts of air pollution is given the top priority. Its high time that we as policymakers use evidence-based data to formulate policies that clean up our skies and help our citizens live longer and healthier lives.”
The AQLI is rooted in a pair of peer-reviewed studies in which Greenstone and his co-authors exploited a unique natural experiment in China based on China’s Huai River Winter Heating policy. The natural experiment allowed them to isolate the effect of air pollution from other factors that affect health, and to do so at the very high concentrations that prevail in India and other countries today. They then combined the results from these studies with hyper-localized, global particulate matter measurements, allowing users to zoom in on any district in the world and understand the impacts of that district’s local air pollution on life expectancy.
The addition of the Hindi version of the site builds on the great momentum that the AQLI has generated since its launch nearly a year ago. Now accessible in three languages—Hindi, English and Mandarin—and providing individual analyses of top polluters in five languages, the Index strives to be accessible to much of the global population. Its mission is succeeding, as about 30,000 people in 161 countries have used the platform. Additionally, since its introduction, close to 300 media outlets reaching more than a billion people worldwide have highlighted the Index and its important findings. It was named a 2019 ‘World Changing Idea’ by Fast Company.