Pollution: 300 million children breathing toxic air - UNICEF report

UN Children's Fund calls for urgent action at upcoming COP 22

Photos and video are available for download here: http://uni.cf/2dD80BZ

TORONTO and NEW YORK, Oct. 30, 2016 /CNW/ - Almost one in seven of the world's children, 300 million, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines – reveals a new UNICEF report.

Clear the Air for Children uses satellite imagery to show for the first time how many children are exposed to outdoor pollution that exceeds global guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO), and where they live across the globe.

"We welcome the Government of Canada's recent ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement demonstrating that tackling climate change remains a priority. We also commend them for their commitment of $2.65 billion to address climate change in developing countries. Once again, Canada is demonstrating international leadership," said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. "The Government of Canada must now keep up this leadership during the COP 22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, next week, where UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries. This would benefit the most vulnerable children who breathe polluted air and are at higher risk of potentially severe health problems, such as pneumonia."

"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."

Children in low-income, rural areas disproportionately affected

The satellite imagery confirms that around two 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 the World Health Organization. South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million children.  Air pollution levels tend to be lower in North America and Canada since it has improved slightly over the past decade with new environmental regulations and progress in technology. However, studies show that more socially disadvantaged communities tend to experience highest levels of traffic-related air pollution.

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.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children's health.

World leaders must take action before it's too late

Children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable.  Young children also breathe faster than adults, and take in more air relative to their body weight.  The most disadvantaged, who already tend to have poorer health and inadequate access to health services, are the most vulnerable to the illnesses caused by polluted air. 

UNICEF is asking world leaders attending COP 22 to take four urgent steps in their countries to protect children from air pollution.

  • Reduce pollution: All countries should work to meet WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.  To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as cutting back on fossil fuel combustion and investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
  • Increase children's access to healthcare: Investing in children's overall healthcare – including immunisation campaigns and improving knowledge, community management and numbers seeking care for pneumonia (a leading killer of children under five) - will improve their resilience to air pollution and their ability to recover from diseases and conditions linked to it.
  • Minimize children's exposure: Sources of pollution such as factories should not be located within the vicinity of schools and playgrounds.  Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities. Cleaner cookstoves can help improve air quality within homes. Reducing air pollution overall can help lower children's exposure.
  • Monitor air pollution: Better monitoring has been proven to help children, youth, families and communities to reduce their exposure to air pollution, become more informed about its causes, and advocate for changes that make the air safer to breathe.

"We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air.  Both are central to our future," Lake said.

UNICEF is advocating for lower levels of air pollution, while also working on the ground to protect children from its effects.  For example, the children's organization backs the development, distribution and use of cleaner cookstoves in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and other countries, and works through some of its country programs to reduce the impact of outdoor air pollution on children's health. It also supports programs to increase children's access to quality healthcare and to vaccinate them against conditions like pneumonia.

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.


Image with caption: "© UNICEF/UNI129897/Asselin A girl sifts hot charcoal with her bare hands, at a wood charcoal production site on the outskirts of the south-western city of San Pédro, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Adults and out-of-school children work seven days a week at the site – where they are exposed to dangerous smoke and charcoal fumes throughout the day. (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)". Image available at: https://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20161030_C8591_PHOTO_EN_807035.jpg

For further information: To arrange interviews or for more information please contact: Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806; Stefanie Carmichael, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8866, 647-500-4320 (mobile), scarmichael@unicef.ca


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