That’s 1 in 7 children on the planet.
According to a recent report from UNICEF, 300 million children across the globe currently live in areas where air pollution is “extremely toxic” and vastly exceeds the international guidelines set by the World Health Organization. What’s more, UNICEF estimates that a full 2 billion children are breathing air that’s been deemed a “long term hazard.”
UNICEF has called on 200 governments around the world to take action and restrict the use of fossil fuels in order to improve public health and slow down climate change.
In the report, UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake, said that “every year, nearly 600,000 children under age 5 die from diseases caused or exacerbated by the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution.” Additionally, “millions more suffer from respiratory diseases that diminish their resilience and affect their physical and cognitive development.”
The WHO estimates that, in 2012, outdoor air pollution contributed to the death of 3.7 million people around the world, including 127,000 children under age 5. Indoor pollution?—?which is caused by coal and wood burning stoves, particularly in developing nations?—?caused an estimated 4.3 million deaths that same year. Of those deaths, over half a million were children under age 5.
“The impact is commensurately shocking,” Lake said, noting that one out of every ten deaths globally of children below the age of 5 is due to pollution-related diseases.
A life-long affect on health
Pollution is directly linked to diseases that kill, and is strongly associated with respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. Studies have shown that living in a polluted environment can have a similar affect on a child’s lungs as living in a home with secondhand smoke.
“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs?—?they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains?—?and, thus, their futures,” Lake explained. Pollution can also harm the development of children’s brains and cause low birth weights and early delivery.
Air pollution affects low and middle income countries the worst
Nicholas Rees, a UNICEF specialist on climate and economic analysis, explained that “air pollution affects poor children the most.”
Out of the estimated 2 billion children around the world who are breathing unhealthy air, 620 million of them live in South Asia?—?mostly in northern India. Another 450 million are in East Asia (mainly China), and 520 million of them live in Africa.
The problem will only continue, unless action is taken soon
In many parts of the world, pollution is only going to get worse. UNICEF’s report says that unless immediate action is taken, outdoor air pollution will become the leading cause of environment-related child death by 2050.
Climate change threatens the future well-being of perhaps billions of children worldwide. UNICEF recommends that the most important thing we can do for our children’s future is work to reduce air pollution.
If you want to do something, then reach out to your representative and let them know climate change matters to you.
It’s important for our voices to be heard, now more than ever.