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Polluted environments kill 1.7 million children each year, UN health agency reports

6 March 2017 – Unhealthy environments are responsible for one-quarter of young child deaths, according to two new reports from the United Nations health agency, which reviewed the threats from pollutants such as second-hand smoke, UV radiation, unsafe water and e-waste.

According to the latest information, polluted environments take the lives of 1.7 million children under the age of five.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

In one of the two reports, Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children's Health and the Environment , WHO announced that many of the common causes of death among children aged between one month and five years of age are preventable with safe water and clear cooking fuels. These include diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

The main pollutant is in the air, resulting in 570,000 deaths each year among children under five years old. Air pollution can stunt brain development and reduce lung function and trigger asthma. In the longer-term, exposure to air pollution can increase the child's risk of contracting heart disease, a stroke or cancer.

To counter such exposure, WHO recommends reducing air pollution, improving safe water and sanitation, and protecting pregnant women and building safer environments, among other actions described in Don't pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children's health .

“Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

One of the emerging environmental threats to children is electronic and electrical waste, according to the second WHO report. Appliances such as old mobile phones that are improperly recycled “expose children to toxins which can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficit, lung damage, and cancer,” the UN agency reported.

At the current rate, the amount of such waste is expected to increase by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2018, up to 50 million metric tonnes.

The reports also point out harmful chemicals that work themselves through the food chain – such as fluoride, lead and mercury, as well as the impact that climate change and UV rays have on children's development.

 


 info-graphic on pollution

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World Bank joint report- Deaths because of air pollution cost the world over 200 billion dollars

Air pollution is recognized today as a major health risk. Exposure to air pollution, both ambient and household, increases a person’s risk of contracting a disease such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. According to the latest available estimates, in 2013, 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 total deaths, were attributable to air pollution.

Air pollution has posed a significant health risk since the early 1990s, the earliest period for which global estimates of exposure and health effects are available. In 1990, as in 2013, air pollution was the fourth leading fatal health risk worldwide, resulting in 4.8 million premature deaths. Air pollution is especially severe in some of the world’s fastest-growing urban regions, where greater economic activity is contributing to higher levels of pollution and to greater exposure. But air pollution is also a problem outside cities.

Billions of people around the world continue to depend on burning solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, and dung in their homes for cooking and heating. Consequently, the health risk posed by air pollution is the greatest in developing countries. In 2013 about 93 percent of deaths and nonfatal illnesses attributed to air pollution worldwide occurred in these countries, where 90 percent of the population was exposed to dan- gerous levels of air pollution.

Children under age 5 in lower-income countries are more than 60 times as likely to die from exposure to air pollution as children in high-income countries. Air pollution is not just a health risk but also a drag on development. By causing illness and premature death, air pollution reduces the quality of life. By causing a loss of productive labor, it also reduces incomes in these countries.

Air pollution can have a lasting effect on productivity in other ways as well for example, by stunting plant growth and reducing the productivity of agriculture, and by making cities less attractive to talented workers, thereby reducing cities’ competitiveness.

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