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SE Asia: Average life expectancy cut by 1.7 years by air pollution

| 07 Sep 2021

Ninety percent of Southeast Asia's 650m people live in areas where particulate pollution exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline, according to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Across the region, air pollution reduces average life expectancy by 1.7 years, relative to what it could be if the WHO guideline is met in the countries in this region, said the authors, Dr Ken Lee and Professor Michael Greenstone.

Some findings on the impact of air pollution on life expectancy, highlighted in the AQLI report, are:

  • Singapore’s 6m residents stand to gain 3.8 years of life expectancy if its air quality met the WHO guideline.
  • On the island of Java, Indonesia’s population and industrial centre, the 11m residents of Jakarta could gain an average of 5.5 years in life expectancy if particulate pollution met the WHO guideline. There are similar life expectancy benefits to cleaning up the air in Bogor, South Tangerang, Bandung, and Bekasi.
  • On mainland Southeast Asia, Vietnam has the highest overall levels of particulate pollution, although there are sharp differences between regions. In the northern Red River Delta region, which surrounds the capital city of Hanoi, home to 7m people, life expectancy would increase 3.4 years if air quality met the WHO guideline. The impacts are much lower in the southern regions, where the air quality is better. Overall, the average Vietnamese citizen stands to gain 1.6 years in life expectancy if particulate pollution were permanently addressed.
  • In Thailand, the residents of Bangkok would gain 1.5 years if pollution levels met the WHO guideline. Forest fires in Thailand’s northern region have increased the amount of regional air pollution, reducing life expectancy by 2 years.
  • In Myanmar and Cambodia, air pollution is not as severe as in other Southeast Asian countries, but it is on the rise. Between 1999 and 2019, particulate pollution in Myanmar and Cambodia increased by 60% and 51%, respectively, resulting in a marginal reduction in average life expectancy of 0.9 and 0.6 years, relative to 1999 levels.