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Study: Air pollution shortening life expectancy by 7 years in Bangladesh

  • Published at 11:25 pm July 28th, 2020
Air Pollution
Air pollution in Dhaka Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Particulate pollution has reduced global life expectancy by two years on average over the last two decades

Air pollution, especially the presence of particulate matter in the air, is shortening the life expectancy of Bangladeshis by seven years on average, a study says.

Anant Sudarshan, South Asia director of Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, presented the findings of the study at a webinar on Tuesday.

According to the study, the most polluted areas of the country are Dhaka and Khulna divisions, where average residents are exposed to the pollution that is eight times more than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines.

With the recent developments, Bangladesh currently is the most polluted out of 234 countries in the world. Every area in Bangladesh has exceeded the pollution level, according to both the WHO guidelines and the country’s own national standards.

In two decades (1998-2018), the increase in air pollution had cut 3.4 years off the lives of the average Bangladesh residents. In 1998, life expectancy was cut short by 2.8 years due to air pollution, while it stood at 6.2 years in 2018.

Meanwhile, pollution in South Asia is also on the rise. People living in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan could see their lives cut short by 5 years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels that are now 44% higher than they were two decades ago. 

Only a quarter of the global population lives in these four countries. However, they make up to 60% of the years lost to pollution in total.

Moreover, particulate pollution has cut global life expectancy by 2 years on average over the last two decades as improvement in some countries was balanced out by worsening conditions in other countries.

According to the study, 5.9 billion people in the world currently live in areas that exceed the WHO safety guidelines for small particulate pollution.

25% of Particulate Matter (PM) pollution comes from vehicles, 20% from wood and coal burning, 15% from power plants and industry, 22% from other human activity and 18% from natural sources worldwide.

Particulate pollution’s deadly effects on the heart, lungs and other systems have a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicative diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS or behavioural complication like smoking.

As a comparison, particulate pollution cuts 1.9 years of life expectancy on average, while smoking cuts life expectancy by 1.8 years, alcohol and drug use by 11 months, unsafe water, sanitation and hand washing by 6 months, road injuries by 5 months, AIDS by 4 months and malaria by 3 months.

Dr Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at Public Health Foundation of India, and Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh Supreme Court advocate and chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), were present in the webinar as the panellists.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan said: “Our policy makers should take action immediately. Every citizen should demand clean air to breathe. Priorities on development projects are undermining environmental conservation here.  All the related ministries, including the health and environment ministries, have to work in a coordinated manner. Coordination is needed for transboundary pollution also.” 

“There was only one coal based power plant in the country 5 years ago. Now we are going to have 29 power plants. Most of them are funded by China. We are not seeing the cost behind the development,” she said.

“There are 7,000 brick fields in the country. These brick fields are causing huge harm to the environment. Owners of the brick fields make connections with local politicians to secure their financial interest. So a strong political commitment is needed to find a solution,” Syeda Rizwana Hasan said.

Poornima Prabhakaran stressed the accessibility and availability of air pollution related data to adopt an environment-friendly development policy. “Air pollution is affecting reproductive health which will be responsible for an unhealthy future generation.”

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