India’s ‘war against pollution’: an opportunity for longer lives

In 2019, India declared a “war against pollution” and launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), signaling its desire to reduce particulate air pollution—the greatest threat to human health on the planet. The Programme, which aims to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 percent nationally, will be implemented over the next five years. If successful in meeting its goals and sustaining the reduced pollution levels, the NCAP would produce substantial benefits, extending the life expectancy of the average Indian by about 1.3 years. People breathing the most polluted air—namely those in Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh—could live up to 3 years longer. Further, the NCAP highlighted 102 cities containing about one quarter of the country’s population that fell short of India’s air standards. If all the cities permanently reduced particulate pollution by 25 percent (the midpoint of NCAP’s goal), their residents would gain 1.4 years. Though achieving the NCAP’s goals would be an important step toward reversing India’s 69 percent increase in fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) concentrations since 1998, India could achieve further gains in life expectancy for its citizens through additional pollution reductions that bring the country into compliance with its own official air quality standards or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5 concentrations.