Experts ask govt to finalise clean air programme

Environmental experts have asked the government to urgently finalise a national clean air programme with specific time-bound and sectoral targets for pollution reduction after a recent study suggested that air pollution shortens an average Indian's life by over 1.5 years.

It is high time that the government comes out of their "denial mode" of international studies which quantified the number of deaths caused by air pollution, they said.

The experts claimed the government has not published any concrete study on the issue for many years now.

In a recent study, scientists said ambient air pollution shortens an average Indian's life by over 1.5 years, and suggested that better air quality could lead to a significant extension of human lifespan around the world.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin in the US had said that if PM2.5 concentrations worldwide were limited to the World Health Organization's (WHO) air quality guideline concentration of 10 microgrammes per square cubic metre, the global life expectancy would be on average 0.59 year longer.

Greenpeace India said studies on impact of air pollution on human health and life expectancy have been conducted worldwide.

Even Indian researchers have done it through various approaches and even if the results might differ by certain percentages depending on the methodologies adopted, the fact remains that there are people who are dying prematurely due to air pollution, it said.

The green body said the increase in the number of patients with ailments like lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cerebrovascular diseases (stroke) and ischaemic heart diseases prove that rise in pollution is impacting human health.

"Indian government has been denying the international studies, even by prominent bodies like WHO, which quantified the number of deaths caused by air pollution in the past and are advocating for Indian studies on the same," Greenpeace India campaigner Sunil Dahiya said.

"Many years have passed and there does not seem to be any concrete study published by government institutions after a set of studies by Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata in 2010 highlighting the health impact prominently. But it seems that we forgot about those Indian studies as well," he said.

In the research done recently, it was for the first time that data on air pollution and lifespan was studied together to examine the global variations and find out how they affect the overall life expectancy.

The researchers found that the life expectancy impact of ambient PM2.5 is especially large in polluted countries such as Bangladesh (1.87 years), Egypt (1.85 years), Pakistan (1.56 years), Saudi Arabia (1.48 years), Nigeria (1.28 years), and China (1.25 years). India had a life expectancy impact of 1.53 years.

Dahiya said the time for debate on minor variance in the percentage of people dying due to hazardous pollution levels have passed long back.

There should not be any delay in actions to curb rising pollution levels even by a single day as the cost of our inaction is very high for our population and economy, he asserted.

"There is an urgent need to finalise a robust, systematic, comprehensive National Clean Air Programme with specific time-bound and sectoral targets for pollution reduction at national and regional or state levels before we are engulfed by another season of hazardous air pollution in a few weeks after the monsoon is over," he said.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said evidences like the recent study reconfirms that air pollution is a public health crisis.

"Yet another way of understanding this data is that if we can reduce air pollution with aggressive measures we can improve our life expectancy and add healthy years to our lives," she said. 

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Experts ask govt to finalise clean air programme

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