UNICEF reports 2 billion children in the world breathing toxic air

World Today

Girls cook lunchGirls cook lunch at a boarding school in Dire Dawa. (COURTESY: UNICEF)

A new report from UNICEF says about a third of the 2 billion children in the world who are breathing toxic air live in northern India and neighboring countries, risking serious health effects including damage to their lungs, brains and other organs.

As a part of the Clear the Air for Children report, satellite imagery was used to examine areas of concentration worldwide where toxic levels exceed guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The imagery confirms about 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by WHO.

Of that global total, 300 million kids are exposed to pollution levels more than six times higher than standards set by the World Health Organization, including 220 million in South Asia.

A boy stands along railroad tracks

A boy stands along railroad tracks, as other people, obscured by dust, smoke and debris, pass by in Kibera, Nairobi.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million children. The East Asia and Pacific region has 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.

The report comes a week ahead of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco, where UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take measures to drastically cut global emissions.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “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. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”

The Conference of Parties is a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1994, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

The study also examines the heavy toll of indoor pollution, commonly caused by use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating, which mostly affects children in low-income, rural areas.

MAP of excessive toxic air

Air pollution is directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 deaths for children under the age of five.

Children are naturally more vulnerable to air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable. Those living beneath or near the poverty line, already suffer from poorer health due to inadequate access to health services and basic nutrition.

Nicholas Ress on UNICEF’s Children Toxic Pollution Report

For more on UNICEF’s latest report on how toxic pollution is impacting children, CCTV America’s Asieh Namdar spoke with Nicholas Rees, the report’s author and policy specialist on climate and economic analysis at UNICEF.

Story compiled with sources from The Associated Press and UNICEF.