Air pollution affects health and lives of children across the globe on a large scale, with India at a critical situation, as pointed out by a UNICEF report titled ‘Clear the Air for Children’.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is urging for strict action to be taken to reduce air pollution after it published a report highlighting the deadly affects it has on children. Air pollution has been attributed to directly causing or aggravating diseases that lead to around 600,000 deaths of children under the age of five, every year. The UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, in the introduction of the report, explicitly stated that poor nations were the worst affected in this case.
“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. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” he added. Air pollution, indoor or outdoor, is directly linked to respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-5 child deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children’s health. With most of these children living in low and middle-income countries, India has been pointed out along with China as most dangerous for children exposed to outdoor air pollution.
The report revealed that around 2 billion children lived in spaces where outdoor pollution exceeds the guideline for air quality in accordance with World Health Organization air specifications. Close to 620 million of these children are said to be from South Asia, most being situated in North India. In Asia, as the UNICEF report stated, 300 million children inhabit spaces with outdoor air pollution exceeding six times the international limit. Apart from causing respiratory diseases and links to children’s cognitive function, air pollution can be possibly linked to miscarriages, stillbirth and other such problems for pregnant women, the report suggested.
Children in India at extreme risk
India, be among the top three countries with the highest child populations is facing an acute challenge in dealing with air pollution. Both outdoor and indoor pollution are at alarmingly high levels. Cities such as the capital New Delhi recently made it to a WHO list for cities in the world most affected by pollution. Despite actions being taken by both the government and private initiatives to tackle air pollution, the situation remains critical. Citizens in cities such as New Delhi have been recently advised to stay indoors as the festival of Diwali resulted in sky-rocketing levels of Suspended Particulate Matter in the air, leading to toxic levels of air pollution.
The problem of air pollution was looked at by the UNICEF report by measuring air pollution reported by satellite imagery, which couldn’t study the extent of indoor air pollution, which is also a grave concern for India. The report stated, “More than 60 per cent of the population in India continue to use solid fuels in household cooking — contributing to over 100,000 child deaths associated with indoor air pollution in 2012.”
With limited access to healthcare, ineffective measures to address air pollution and extreme poverty, Indian children are highly vulnerable. Without a consolidated attempt to tackle the problem of air pollution as it exists in its current levels, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Indian children to breathe.