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300 million children exposed to heavily toxic air: UNICEF

Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year. In photo: A boy ran beside in the waste burning dumps area producing smoke and toxic pollution at Mohammadpur. Photograph: (Getty)

Washington, United States Oct 31, 2016, 05.05 AM (IST)

About 300 million children are exposed to toxic air, according to a United Nations report released on Monday.

Nearly one in seven children worldwide breathe unhealthy air, the study stated, adding that the air quality is at least six times over the permissible limits prescribed by international guidelines.

In total, around 2 billion children live in areas that exceed the World Health Organization annual limit of 10 μg/m3 (the amount of micrograms of ultra-fine particulate matter per cubic metre of air that constitutes a long-term hazard), the report said.

Some cities in Asia exceed the permissible limits by almost 20 times.

The damning UNICEF report, titled Clear The Air for Children, listed the devastating impact air pollution had on children: curtailment of brain development and a major contibutor of death among children below the age of five.

The study estimated that around 600,000 children under the age of five died due to toxic outdoor air every year. 

The report has been published by UNICEF just a week before world leaders converge in Morocco for a 12-day climate change talks.

Air pollution is also expected to exacerbate in coming years, with the report stating that urban outdoor air pollution has increased by about 8 per cent between 2008 and 2013.

Citing urbanisation as the reason for worsening air pollution levels, the report said it is not just children in Asia that are at direct risk but growing industrialisation in Africa would see a surge in environment-related deaths in coming years if substantial efforts are not made.

"As the population grows…as countries continue to develop through rapid industrialization…and as urbanization increases, experts expect all these numbers to climb. Unless we act now," said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

He also threw light on how children in developing countries, both belonging to low and middle income, were more prone to suffering chronic illnesses due to toxic pollution.

"Protecting children from air pollution is not only in their best interests; it is also in the best interests of their societies – a benefit realised in reduced health costs…and increased productivity," Lake said in the foreword of the report.

The study also listed the potential dangers of indoor air pollution caused by burning of coal or wood for cooking, lighting or heating purposes.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one death in 10 in children under the age of five, making air pollution a leading danger to children's health, UNICEF said.

As of 2013, more than 350 million children in Africa were estimated to live in households where solid fuels are used, while in Asia, over 640 million children are estimated to live in such households.


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