Air pollution leading to child deaths: study
Toxic levels of air pollution in developing countries are causing severe health problems and deaths, with children the most vulnerable.
TOXIC levels of air pollution in developing countries like Myanmar have begun to cause miscarriages, increase infant deaths and stunt children’s cognitive and physical development, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF pulled no punches in a new study that used satellite imagery to examine what kind of air is breathed by children around the world.
“The magnitude of the danger air pollution poses, especially to young children, is enormous,” it said.
Low- and middle-income nations were by far the worst-affected, with vehicle emissions, heavy fossil fuel use and burning of waste mainly to blame.
Asia was the hardest-hit region, accounting for “the vast bulk of total deaths attributable to air pollution”.
Dangers apparently begin in the womb with polluted air “associated with higher rates of early foetal loss, preterm delivery and lower birth weight”.
Children’s lungs were then described as “in the process of growing and developing, making them especially vulnerable to polluted air”.
“Children breathe twice as fast, taking in more air per unit of body weight, compared to adults … [and their] immune systems are still developing, especially at young ages [which] increases the risks of respiratory infection and reduces the ability of children to combat it,” the report, “Clean the Air for the Children”, said.
Air pollution was cited as directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making it “one of the leading dangers to children’s health”.
UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said, “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.”
The UNICEF study comes after a recent World Health Organization (WHO) data set showed that Myanmar’s annual median concentration of microscopic pollution particles was 51, within an estimated range of 32 to 80.
A concentration of 10 or below was considered harmless for humans, while 70 or above was seen as extremely unsafe.
WHO numbers showed that upward of 22,000 deaths per year in Myanmar can be attributed to ambient air pollution. which is the third-highest per capita rate in the Southeast Asia region.
A spokesperson for the Myanmar WHO office cited indoor air pollution – the result of cooking and heating techniques – as a major concern for children here. In certain rural parts of Myanmar, as many as 95 percent of households still rely on the use of solid fuel – such as wood, crop waste, charcoal, coal or dung – for cooking purposes.
“In poorly ventilated settings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels for fine particles. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time at home,” the spokesperson said.
The UNICEF report said reducing air pollution “is one of the most important things we can do for children”.
It called on governments to better monitor pollution, cut back fossil fuel use, increase children’s access to healthcare, minimise children’s exposure by moving sources of pollution away from schools and reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities.