UNICEF has recently stated that air pollution is the leading cause of child deaths worldwide, more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. The organization has further revealed that approximately 600,000 children, five years or younger, die each year as a result of illnesses that are due to (or irritated by) indoor and outdoor pollution; more so in poorer nations.
The report also stated that it hurts the children it does not kill, which includes unborn babies.
CNN reported that the details advised by UNICEF titled Clear the Air for Children has been released in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference being held in Marrakech, Morocco (also referred to as COP22) in hopes that it can help influence world leaders to work on the reduction of air pollution. The organization is asking leaders to consider four action steps:
Decrease pollution by reducing fossil fuel combustion and invest in energy efficiency.
Enhance the access to health care for children, where there are more immunization programs, as well as information about pneumonia (which happens to be the highest killer of children five years of age and younger)
Decrease air pollution that is exposed to kids by keeping factories and other types of sources away from schools. Another idea is to use cleaner cook stoves within houses.
Enhance the monitoring system around air pollution.
UNICEF stated that it used satellite imagery for its report to showcase the worldwide scope of this issue. According to the report, approximately two billion youngsters live in areas where outdoor pollution level is over the air quality guidelines set out by the World Health Organization (WHO). A majority of these kids also live in low-to-middle income nations. This includes: 450 million in the Pacific and East Asia, 520 million in Africa, and 620 million in South Asia. The report also indicated that outdoor air pollution commonly occurs in urban, low-income areas and is the result of car emissions, increased use of fossil fuels, as well dust and waste burning.
If the map provided in the report looks familiar, it might be because it resembles one that was recently released by WHO, which reveals that over 90 percent of the population around the globe live in areas where outdoor air pollution does not meet the WHO’s guidelines.
Still, it’s important to note that this satellite map does not reveal the levels of indoor pollution, a huge issue that rural, low-income areas face, where the public uses coal and wood when it comes to heating and cooking needs. In fact, UNICEF has stated that over one billion children live in houses where these solid fuels are used (as mentioned above) on a regular basis.
The report indicated that there is a solid connection between a country’s income and their use of solid fuels within homes. UNICEF is currently working on distributing cleaner cook stoves to poorer nations such as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and others.
While poor air quality is a dangerous threat to kids, as their immune systems and lungs are developing, it also affects unborn babies. Research in the past has indicated that on-going exposure to increased levels of air pollution can be linked to low birthrates, premature births, and well as an increased rate of fetal loss.
Still, UNICEF also points out that decreasing air pollution is not only an issue that can benefit children. As Anthony Lake, executive director for UNICEF points out, the reduction of air pollution also creates decreased costs in healthcare, an increase in productivity, as well as a safe and clean environment that will overall positively affect sustainable development.