Every day around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. Tragically, many of them die: World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.
A new WHO report on Air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air examines the heavy toll of both ambient (outside) and household air pollution on the health of the world’s children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
It reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing. Newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that regularly use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting
♦ In low- and middle-income countries, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
♦ More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 – is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
♦ Together, household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.
♦ Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.
All countries should work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources. Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities and thereby reducing ‘community air pollution’.
Source: World Health Organisation