As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the globe, one would assume the greatest risk to health is an emerging disease. However, a new report has identified what the most damaging thing is to human health – and it is self-inflicted. Air pollution has been touted by the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) to contribute to billions of health problems across the planet and lead to a shorter life-span for humans.

The main contributor to rising pollution levels is caused by the likes of wood-burning stoves, coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and wildfires.

In turn, climate change and the heating planet makes wildfires more likely which creates a vicious cycle.

Particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes and cause lung cancer.

The worst affected countries are the likes of India and Bangladesh, where air pollution is wiping off nearly a decade from the average human life-span.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s population resides in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, where pollution levels are 44 percent higher than they were 20 years ago, according to the AQLI.

While the likes of the US, Europe and Japan have made great strides in reducing air pollution levels, the report found it is still taking an average of two years from the average human in these regions.

The report from the AQLI said: “Even with this progress, there are still parts of the United States, Europe, Japan, and most especially China, where pollution meaningfully compromises human health.”

Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and creator of the AQLI, said: “Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving—perhaps more in some places—embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives.

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Through February and March, when hundreds of millions of people were under strict lockdown restrictions in China due to coronavirus, satellite observations from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed a dramatic drop in pollution levels.

The drop came as the aviation industry virtually came to a halt and many people remained in their homes.

Analysis from Stanford University found the drop in nitrogen dioxide across the planet could save tens of thousands of lives.

Environmental resource economist Marshall Burke has calculated the two months of pollution reduction has saved the lives of 4,000 children under five and 73,000 adults over 70 in China.

Mr Burke wrote on the blog G-FEED: “Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural – if admittedly strange – question is whether the lives saved from this reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself.

“Even under very conservative assumptions, I think the answer is a clear ‘yes’.”

However, pollution levels across the planet have jumped back up following the easing of restrictions.





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