UNICEF found air pollution to be a major contributing factor in the deaths of nearly 600,000 under the age of five.
Most recent environmental concerns regarding pollution have been largely focused on water and land pollution. Though these are undeniably major concerns facing our planet, there has been a tendency to ignore or downplay air pollution as it is something not many are conscious of on a daily basis. Air pollution, although it is often visually noticeable, is unfortunately not as attention-grabbing as dramatic images of oil spills and color-changing rivers, but the danger it poses is equally significant. According to a new report released by UNICEF, toxic air pollution poses an enormous, but frequently overlooked, risk to children worldwide.
The report’s analysis, largely based on the use of satellite imagery, found that both indoor and outdoor air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of nearly 600,000 young children under the age of five every year. It was also found that nearly one in seven of the world’s children – 300 million – are living in area where the density of ultra-fine particulate matter is in excess of international guidelines at least six times over.
The report cited the main causes of air pollution as being vehicle emissions, heavy fossil fuel use, dust, and the improper burning of waste. Many of these children are already at a disadvantage, as many of them live in poverty and are exposed to other types of pollution in their daily lives. Around 2 billion children live in areas that do not meet minimum air quality standards, with the vast majority living in South Asia – about 620 million. Indoor pollution was also factored into the report, which is most commonly caused by the use of coal and wood for heating and cooking, largely affecting low-income, rural areas.
Together, outdoor and indoor pollution are directly linked to the respiratory problems and diseases that account for nearly one in 10 deaths among children under the age of five. The report also noted that, in addition to respiratory diseases and complications, air pollution can also impair immune response and brain development in children, resulting in permanent damage. Children are the most vulnerable to air pollution as their respiratory tracts are more permeable and they also breath faster than adults, taking in more air relative to their body weight. UNICEF offered several courses of actions to improve the problem including: reducing pollution, increasing children’s access to healthcare, minimizing children’s exposure, and monitoring air pollution.
However, many of these goals, though noble, are difficult to enforce and enact. What really needs to happen is a concerted effort among environmentalists to include air pollution when referencing water and land pollution. Clean air is just as necessary as clean water and we are doing ourselves a disservice by not treating them as the same problem, not separate problems. Our species is facing an unprecedented pollution crisis on all levels, in-fighting about all other issues pales in comparison to the necessity of having clean air, water, and food in an increasingly toxic world.