OVER 90 percent of the world’s children under 15 years of age breathe air that is so polluted it’s damaging their intelligence and leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to a study from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
That accounts for 1.8 billion children that are breathing toxic air. In 2016, an estimated 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections as a result of this.
Air pollution is one of the leading threats to health in children under five, accounting for almost one in 10 deaths among this age group, the report reads.
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Other side effects are extensive and affect children in both developed and developing countries. Exposure can hinder neurological development and cognitive ability, as well as trigger asthma and childhood cancer, the report says. Those children exposed are also at greater risk of developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Director General of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the problem “inexcusable.”
“Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential,” he said in a statement.
In a column for the Guardian following the release of the report, Ghebreyesus described air pollution as the “new tobacco,” saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.
The study found 93 percent of children worldwide are exposed to one of the most damaging pollutants – PM2.5.
In poorer countries, this increases to a whopping 98 percent of children under five being exposed to dangerous levels of the toxic pollutant.
According to the WHO, children are more susceptible to pollutants as they are closer to the ground where there is a higher concentration. They also breathe more and, therefore, inhale more chemicals.
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straightforward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the WHO.
Suggestions to fix the problem – or at least prevent making it worse – include switching to clean heating fuels and cooking techniques, especially in poorer countries where this is still a problem; increase energy efficient housing; improve urban planning to reduce transport strains; low emission power generation; and better municipal waste management.