Forty per cent of India’s population that resides in the densely populated Indo-Gangetic Plain region of North India is impacted by more pollution from vehicular, residential, and agricultural sources and reducing particulate pollution to the World Health Organization’s guideline of 10 μg/m3 would increase the national average life expectancy in this area.
This is the conclusion drawn by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago-EPIC in its Air Quality Life Index – AQLI
Epic has analysed data to conclude that more than 480 million people, or about 40 percent of India’s population, who reside in the seven States and Union Territories, comprising the bulk of the Indo-Gangetic Plain region of North India – Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal (Figure 1) are impacted more by different pollution sources due to high population density.
Though the Indo-Gangetic Plain’s particulate pollution is exacerbated by geologic and meteorological factors, the AQLI’s dust- and sea salt-removed fine particulate matter (PM2.5) data imply that human activity plays a key role in generating the severe particulate pollution that these residents face. That is likely due to the fact that the region’s population density is more than three times that of the rest of the country, meaning more pollution from vehicular, residential, and agricultural sources.
A denser population also means more human lives are impacted by each pollution source.
Across India, reducing particulate pollution to the World Health Organization’s guideline of 10 μg/m3 would increase the national average life expectancy by 4.3 years. In north India, there would be outsize impacts of policy that reduces air pollution to meet Indian or International norms, EPIC underscores.
• From 1998-2016, the Indo-Gangetic Plain region of India (Figure 1) experienced particulate pollution that was about twice as high as the rest of the country (Figure 2).
• Sustained exposure to particulate pollution in 1998 would have shortened the lives of residents in the Indo-Gangetic Plain by an average of 3.7 years, relative to if pollution concentrations met the WHO guideline. By 2016, a 72 percent increase in pollution in the region further shortened the lives of residents by 3.4 years to 7.1 years, relative to if air quality met the WHO guideline.
• In comparison, lower concentrations of pollution in the rest of the country are allowing residents to live longer than those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. If 1998 levels of pollution had continued over a lifetime, residents would have lost an average of 1.2 years of life expectancy. Because of a 65 percent increase in pollution, sustained exposure in 2016 is cutting short life expectancy by 2.6 years, relative to the WHO guideline.
In 2019, India launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). The Programme, which aims to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 percent nationally, will be implemented over the next five years. If successful in meeting its goals and sustaining the reduced pollution levels, the NCAP would produce substantial benefits, extending the life expectancy of the average Indian by about 13 years. Those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain would gain about 2 years onto their lives.