Polluted environments kill 1.7 million children each year

Second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation and inadequate hygiene kill at least one in four children every year, according to two new reports published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) today.

The first report’ Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment reveals that a large portion of the most common causes of death among children aged 1 month to 5 years – diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia; are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.

But failure to take appropriate action has resulted into the death of 1.7 million children annually, according to the reports.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan says such harmful exposures often start in the mother’s womb increasing the risk of premature birth, an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” Dr Chan says in a statement this morning. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

A companion report, don’t pollute my future! The Impact of the Environment on Children’s Health, shows that up to 570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to air pollution, and second-hand smoke. Another 361,000 die due to diarrhea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The report adds that 270,000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity and 200 000 deaths of children die from malaria which could also be prevented through reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage. A similar number of children die from poisoning, falls, and drowning.

According to the reports, children are equally facing emerging environmental hazards, such as electronic and electrical waste (like old mobile phones) that is improperly recycled, exposing them to toxins which can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficits, lung damage, and cancer.

There are also increasing rates of asthma in children due to climate change and rising levels of temperatures and carbon dioxide. Children are also exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water, air and products around them.

“A polluted environment results in a heavy toll on the health of our children,” Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health says adding that  improving water quality or using cleaner fuels will result in massive health benefits.

– Uganda Radio Network