DATA STORY: Living in Delhi can cut 9 years of your life, one breathe at a time

Anupa Kujur
Moneycontrol News

As New Delhi wakes up to the air pollution — a problem it can not ignore — a study suggests that people in India’s capital can live 9 years longer if the country meets the WHO’s air quality standards.

The Air Quality-Life Index (AQLI) report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) suggests that if India meets the national Air Quality Standards or WHO standards for PM2.5–particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size, several cities would gain in terms of life expectancy.

Delhi’s citizens would be the biggest beneficiaries if the city adheres to the WHO prescribed air quality norms. They could live 9 years longer if the norms are met, the report states. The people of Kolkata and Mumbai could live roughly 3.5 years longer if the country met WHO standards.  Overall, Indian citizens could live four years longer if India meets WHO standards, the report states.

Source: EPIC AQLI report

Other major cities with a potential considerable improvement in the average life expectancy if WHO norms are followed include, Bengaluru (1.4 years), Chennai (1.7 years), Hyderabad (2.3 years) and Jaipur (4.3 years).

Life expectancy in the following cities can go up to eight years if the country adheres to the WHO standards: Agra (8.1 years), Patna (6.9 years), Bareilly (7.8 years) and Kanpur (7.2 years).


Source: EPIC-AQLI Report

The index studies particulate pollution concentrations and translates its impact on lifespans. Thereby, providing a reliable measure of the potential gain in life expectancy communities could see if their pollution concentrations are brought into compliance with WHO, national, or some other standard.

“High levels of air pollution are a part of people’s lives in India, just
as they were in the US, England, Japan and other countries in the
past. The last several decades have seen tremendous progress in
many of these countries, but this progress did not happen by

accident—it was the result of policy choices,” Michael Greenstone, the Director of Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago said.

About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013, according to a 2016 study.

The number of deaths attributable to PM 2.5 exposure in India has been on the rise. According to the Sate of Global Air 2017, India recorded over a million death due to exposure to PM 2.5.


Over 5.5 million (55 lakh) people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution globally, with 55 per cent deaths caused in India and China, according to a 2016 report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

India is already taking action to reduce pollution. EPIC-India is currently
working with the central government and several state pollution control
boards to implement India’s first emissions trading program forparticulate pollution.