Over 1 lakh children in India die due to indoor, outdoor air pollution: WHO

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on October 30, 2018

Up to 66,890 children below five years die due to indoor house pollution, primarily caused by cooking fuel

More children die in India than anywhere else in the world due to air pollution, according to the latest estimates released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 1,09,022 children below 15 years die in India every year due to acute lower respiratory tract infections, the WHO said in its report – Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air. Of the 1,09,022, the maximum number of children, up to 1,01,788 (93 per cent) are belowfive years.

What is more shocking is that up to 66,890 Indian children below five years die due to indoor house pollution, primarily caused by cooking fuel. The report said that 59 per cent of Indian households still use cooking fuel.

This is because, when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts neuro development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children, who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution, may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.

One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing. Therefore, newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution due to use of polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting.

“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brain, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce the emission of dangerous pollutants ,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, WHO.

According to WHO estimates, six lakh children die annually by breathing toxic air, of which India alone contributes to 17 per cent death. Even as China is more populous than India,child deaths in China are way lower than India. Estimates state that up to 11,377 children below five years and 874.8 children between 5 to 14 years die due to pollution-related ailments.

As far as the death rates of children succumbing to air pollution, India is only next to Afghanistan and Pakistan in per lakh population concentration of deaths. In Afghanistan, 156 children below five years in per lakh population die annually due to both indoor and outdoor pollution, while in Pakistan this figure stands at 153 children. In India, 84 children per lakh population die annually, while in China the figure stands at 13 children.

“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”

WHO states that all countries should work towards meeting the WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt measures such as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improving energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources.

Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burnt within communities and thereby reducing ‘community air pollution’. The exclusive use of clean technologies and fuelfor household cooking, heating and lighting activities can drastically improve the air quality within homes and in the surrounding community.

Published on October 30, 2018

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