Air pollution shortens the life expectancy of every man, woman, and child on Earth by nearly two years, according to new data released this week by experts from the University of Chicago.
The report, presented by the Air Quality Index (MIND), says that as the world rushes to find a vaccine to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution continues to cause billions of people worldwide to have shorter lives and sick.
The index translates air pollution – mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels – into an impact on human health. And now you have found that, despite the significant reduction in particulate matter (suspended particles) in China, the overall level of pollution has been stable for the past two decades.
In countries like India and Bangladesh, on the other hand, air pollution is so severe that in some areas it has shortened life expectancy by almost a decade.
The study authors state that the quality of the air we breathe constitutes a much greater health risk than the COVID-19 strain.
“While the threat of coronavirus is serious and deserves every ounce of attention it has, acknowledging the seriousness of air pollution with similar rigor will allow billions of people to live healthier and longer lives,” Michael Greenstone said, founder of AQLI.
Overpopulation of cities
About a quarter of the global population lives in just four Asian nations that are among the most polluted: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
AQLI found that these populations will see their life expectancy shortened by about five years or more, after being exposed to 44% higher levels of contamination than 20 years ago.
Millions wasting years
The situation is also worrying in Southeast Asia, the report notes. There forest and crop fires have combined with traffic and power plants to create a toxic combo.
About 89% of the 650 million inhabitants of these areas live in places where air pollution exceeds the limit established by the World Health Organization.
Instead, the United States, Europe, and Japan have been successful in improving air quality in their cities.
“Globally, this problem still reduces the life expectancy of each human in two years,” AQLI says.
Furthermore, several independent studies have shown that exposure to contaminated air is a key risk factor for coronavirus. This is why Greenstone urges governments to prioritize air quality after the pandemic.
“No vaccine will cure pollution, the solution lies in robust public policies,” he concludes.