As many as 92 percent of Bangladeshis would live 3 to 7 years longer on average if air pollution could be brought down to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guideline benchmark.
This is the conclusion of the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report unveiled in November 2018.
Chronic exposure to polluted air heightens the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.
Dr Sadia Sultana, a physician at the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital, told The Business Standard that polluted air containing small particles lead to respiratory system diseases, including asthma.
“Besides, accumulation of such particles in the lungs could cause many deadly diseases, such as cancer. Air pollution results in kidney and liver complications, as well as skin diseases,” she said.
Ziaul Haque, managing director (air quality management) of the Department of Environment, said brick kilns and construction projects are the main causes of air pollution in Bangladesh.
“These release dust particles in the air. That is why we are discouraging the operation of traditional brick kilns,” he explained to The Business Standard.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association said long‐term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of major cardiovascular disease and mortality.
The WHO air quality guidelines say annual average PM2.5 concentrations below 10 μg per cubic metre of air could reduce air pollution-related deaths.
PM (Particulate matter) is a common proxy indicator for air pollution. PM2.5 particles are those that have a diameter of 2.5 microns.
The WHO estimates that reducing yearly average PM2.5 concentrations to 10 micrograms per cubic metre could reduce air pollution-related deaths by around 15 percent.
In 2016, 91 percent of the world population were living in places where the WHO air quality guideline levels were not met.
Bangladesh third in PM2.5 concentration in S Asia, Sri Lanka’s air cleanest
The WHO says outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem not only in developing countries but also in high-income states.
According to the AQLI report, Bangladesh has the third highest PM2.5 concentration level (53) in the South Asian region.
This is more than 5 times the 10 μg per cubic metre safety benchmark suggested by the WHO.
The figure is based on when measurements were taken for the AQLI report.
With a concentration level of 55, Nepal’s air is the worst in South Asia followed by India (54).
Pakistan’s air quality is better than Bangladesh and India, but still its PM2.5 concentration level is more than 3 times the WHO guideline level.
Air in war-ravaged Afghanistan has a PM2.5 concentration level of 14 while Sri Lanka has the cleanest air in South Asia with its PM2.5 concentration level being 1.
What is AQLI?
The Air Quality Life Index represents a completely novel advancement in measuring and communicating the health risks posed by particulate matter air pollution.
This is because the AQLI converts particulate air pollution into a metric that measures its impact on life expectancy.
The AQLI is rooted in peer-reviewed research that for the first time quantified the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to air pollution and life expectancy.
The index then combines this research with hyper-localised, global PM measurements, yielding unprecedented insight into the true cost of air pollution in communities around the world.
The AQLI is based on the finding that an additional 10 microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 reduces life expectancy by 0.98 years.
It found that particulate matter air pollution cuts the average person’s life short by nearly 2 years globally.
Largest losses of life expectancy were found in Bangladesh, as well as in China and India.