The World Health Organisation says more than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments.
In two new reports, WHO says “every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years.”
According to the first report Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment, most of the deaths of children “are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.”
WHO quotes Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General as saying that “a polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children…their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”
WHO further says the exposure children face can “start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth”, while adding that “infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma”.
More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, say two new WHO reports.
According to the second WHO report, one of the emerging environmental threats to children is electronic and electrical waste, 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.
It said 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.
Citing the report, titled Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, provides a comprehensive overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health, illustrating the scale of the challenge.
According to the report, every year:
- 570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke.
- 361 000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.
- 270 000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution.
- 200 000 deaths of children under 5 years from malaria could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage.
- 200 000 children under 5 years die from unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning.
WHO then calls for safer places for children by “reducing air pollution inside and outside households, improving safe water and sanitation and improving hygiene, protecting pregnant women from second-hand tobacco smoke, and building safer environments, can prevent children’s deaths and diseases.”
It also said multiple government sectors can work together to improve the following:
- Housing: Ensure clean fuel for heating and cooking, no mould or pests, and remove unsafe building materials and lead paint.
- Schools: Provide safe sanitation and hygiene, free of noise, pollution, and promote good nutrition.
- Health facilities: Ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and reliable electricity.
- Urban planning: Create more green spaces, safe walking and cycling paths.
- Transport: Reduce emissions and increase public transport.
- Agriculture: Reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and no child labour.
- Industry: Manage hazardous waste and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
- Health sector: Monitor health outcomes and educate about environmental health effects and prevention.