Two billion children breathe toxic air worldwide: Unicef

Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, says the Unicef study


New Delhi’s air pollution, among the world’s worst, spikes every winter because of the season’s weak winds and countless garbage fires. Photo: AP
New Delhi’s air pollution, among the world’s worst, spikes every winter because of the season’s weak winds and countless garbage fires. Photo: AP

New Delhi: Around two billion children across the world live in areas where the air is bad and exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safe limit, with about 300 million of those, live in areas where the air is toxic and exceed internationally accepted safe limits by at least six times, said a new report released by Unicef on Monday.

Of the total two billion people who were found to be living in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds minimum air quality guidelines of WHO, 620 million are in South Asia, 520 million in Africa and 450 million in East Asia and the Pacific region.

And of the 300 million that live in parts of the world where the air is toxic, 220 million live in South Asia, mainly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The findings come a week ahead of the UN climate change conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where Unicef will ask world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year , and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day. Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs; they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains–and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” said Unicef executive director Anthony Lake.

“We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air. Both are central to our future,” Lake added.

Unicef urged countries that are attending the Morocco meeting to adopt measures such as cutting back on fossil fuel combustion, and investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The UN agency also urged countries to increase children’s access to healthcare, and invest in their overall healthcare including immunisation campaigns.

The Unicef report was released on Monday, a day when Delhi woke up to a thick smog as the already-high air pollution spiked after .

The average concentration of Particulate Matter 10 and .5 were recorded at nearly eight times the safe limit on Monday.

Also Read: Delhi air pollution eight times the safe limit day after Diwali

The Unicef study also examined the heavy toll of indoor pollution, commonly caused by the use of fuels such as coal and wood for cooking and heating, mostly affecting children in low-income, rural areas.

“Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children’s health,” the report said.

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