Rare good news: China’s war on air pollution seems to be paying off with improving indices, while air quality deteriorates elsewhere | Image credit: HuffingtonPost

Study: 92% of world inhaling pollutants way above WHO levels; South Asia tops list

In 2017, 92% of the world’s population was breathing air replete with PM2.5 at levels much higher than the WHO guidelines – this is just one of the many shocking conclusions reached by a recent study. The State of Global Air 2019 report, which was released this week, ranked air pollution as the fifth-leading risk factor for mortality worldwide, beating more traditionally known risks such as malnutrition, alcohol use and obesity. The report stated air pollution was the leading cause for 5 million deaths in 2017 – that’s 1 in every 10 people.

The report, which studied the effects of both indoor and outdoor pollution, concluded that toxic air had shortened human lifespan by 1 year and 8 months, a loss ranking just below smoking. The beacon of hope, however, comes from the least expected place – China. The country, which often finds its name in the most-polluted list thanks mainly to its large population, seems to be benefitting from some major regulatory reforms that have brought down PM2.5 levels considerably.

The study painted a bleak picture of conditions closer home, however, with South Asia topping the list of most polluted regions in the world, where, lifespan has shortened even further than the global average – by 2 years and 6 months. In India alone, air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2017 – a sharp increase from the 1.1 million in 2015 – according to the study. China and India were responsible for over half of the world’s total attributable deaths in 2017, says the study. But what’s even more concerning for India is that the PM2.5 levels found in the country (91 μg/m3) were much higher than that of China (53 μg/m3) and second only to Nepal (100 μg/m3). Just a word of warning: Staying indoors won’t prevent exposure to toxic air with the study opining that half of the world’s population—a total of 3.6 billion people — were exposed to household air pollution in 2017.

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