Toxic air will shorten children's lives by nearly two years and will have the greatest impact in South Asia, according to a special report on global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden, published by the US-based Health Effects Institute.
Every year, more people die from air pollution-related illnesses in the world than road traffic injuries or malaria. Air pollution collectively reduced life expectancy by an year and 8 months on average worldwide.
The number of air pollution deaths in China dropped from 2016 to 2017 but the Indian fatalities rose from 1.1 million to 1.2 million as the country's PM2.5 levels continued to rise.
In the past few years, pollution levels have peaked at unhealthy and hazardous levels in the Kathmandu Valley, increasing health risks for citizens.
Further, in 2017, exposure to PM2.5 was the third leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes deaths and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) after high blood sugar and high body mass index.
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Children born in the most polluted countries of the world - Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan - face the greatest threat from air pollution.
The State of Global Air 2019 report and accompanying interactive website are designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Texas, Austin. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 75 percent of the global population, or 5.5 billion people, live in areas wherePM2.5 pollution exceeds safe levels.
The report also highlighted that almost half of the world's population - a total of 3.6 billion people - were exposed to household air pollution in 2017. On the other hand, China's air pollution sources are industrial and power plant burning of coal and other fuels; transportation; household burning of biomass; open burning of agricultural fields; and household burning of coal for cooking and heating.
Mostharmful air pollution comes from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal - also a major cause of climate change - which China has continually pledged to reduce. Robert O'Keefe, vice president, Health Effects Institute, Boston, says: "India has initiated major steps to address pollution sources: the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG programme, accelerated Bharat Stage VI vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme".
The problem is particularly pronounced in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which in the past year have seen cities blanketed in thick clouds of toxic air for days at a time. "They have kept on pursuing this, they have dispatched government officials to these places to enforce, and air pollution has begun to turn a corner in China", he said. Could a report titled "State of the Global Air" with 21 mentions of India in the text of a 24-page report turn some heads, draw attention to the alarming health crisis brewing in the country?