The World Health Organization responded to Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar, days after he said there was no established link between air pollution and a shorter life span. The WHO said that the world body wished that air pollution “did not kill people but it unfortunately does”, The Times of India reported on Monday. Javadekar had made the remarks in the Parliament on Friday and criticised the Opposition for allegedly creating a “fear psychosis among people”.

“Independent of which methodology is used or what are the estimates, it is urgent to take action because the levels of air pollution in certain cities in India are very high and this is definitely having an impact on the health of citizens,” WHO Director (Public Health) Dr Maria Neira told the newspaper on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid, Spain. “We urge the Indian government, which has enormous amounts of expertise and competencies, to do its best in tackling the sources of air pollution and reducing toxic pollutants that citizens are exposed to at the moment.”

Neira said there was evidence available on the health hazards, along with interventions and a plan of action to tackle air pollution.

The world body’s Climate Lead Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum said they had gathered and analysed thousands of studies on the effect of air pollution on people’s health. “We are yet to find a study which shows any population, including India, which is immune from the health impacts of air pollution,” Campbell-Lendrum said.

Javadekar on Friday had claimed that studies that say pollution reduced life expectancy might not be based on first-generation data but on extrapolations of secondary data. To this, an unidentified doctor from a government hospital in the country said that it was almost impossible to take first-generation data into consideration as it was a long process.

The doctor said that even though there were no long-term studies in India, global reports may be extrapolated to the Indian citizens. He said there may be marginal errors in modelling studies, but they could not be completely incorrect.

Interventional pulmonologist Dr Sameer Arbat said that there was sufficient proof to link air pollution to be behind Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease that was earlier only found in smokers. The ailment was now the third-largest cause for deaths in the world.

In its study last year, the Indian Council of Medical Research had pointed out that the average life expectancy in the country would have been 1.7 years more if air quality was worsening only on a minimal level.

The Parliament had discussed pollution in North India, particularly in the National Capital Region, earlier too in the Winter Session. The region suffers from extremely toxic air quality in early winter every year.