Health Care

2 billion children breathe toxic air worldwide, UNICEF says

2 billion children breathe toxic air worldwide, UNICEF says

The World Health Organization estimates that outdoor air pollution killed 3.7 million people worldwide in 2012, including 127,000 kids under 5.

Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said the impact is shocking, with 600,000 children younger than five across the world dying every year from air pollution-related diseases.

The report, titled 'Clear the Air for Children, ' was published today (31 October) and revealed that nearly one in seven of the world's children - roughly 300 million - live in areas with the highest levels of outdoor air pollution, six or more times higher than worldwide guidelines. Another 520 million children are breathing toxic air in Africa, and 450 million in East Asia, mainly China, according to the report, which combined satellite images of pollution and ground data with demographic patterns to determine which populations fell into the highest risk areas. The satellite imagery confirms that around 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds WHO's minimum air quality guidelines.

A WHO report released in September indicated that 90 percent of the world's poplulation breathes polluted air and that three million deaths each year are linked to exposure from indoor and outdoor pollution. "It's also that the poorest children are the most affected".

The study's author, Nicholas Rees, explained to the Washington Post why children are more susceptible to air pollution than adults. Outdoor air pollution is worse in "lower-income, urban communities", while indoor air pollution is more prolific in "lower-income, rural areas".

Last week, the city launched a smartphone application called "Change the Air" inviting residents to send photos and complaints about illegal pollution sources, from the burning of leaves and garbage in public parks to construction crews working without dust control measures.

New Delhi pollution
After the annual fireworks celebrations New Delhi residents were advised to stay indoors

UNICEF released this report in advance of COP 22, a meeting of world leaders in Marrakesh, Morocco, next week where the organization will call on the entire world to do more to boost air quality for children.

The most vulnerable to illnesses caused by air pollution are children living in poverty, who tend to have poorer health and little access to health services.

-Improve monitoring of air pollution. "Developing countries - both low- and middle-income - can and must do so, too".

"Reducing air pollution is one of the most important things we can do for children", UNICEF said in its report.

"Protecting children from air pollution is not only in their best interest, it is also in the best interests of their societies", Lake wrote, noting that the benefits would lower health costs, increase productivity and lead to more sustainable development.

Urgent action needs to be taken now across the world to reduce the impact of air pollution on the lives of children, said Swedish business leader Bengt Rittri, founder and CEO of Blueair, a global leader in indoor air purification technology.

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