Pollution blamed for deaths of a quarter of under-fives

By Gem Childe on 7th Mar 2017

World Health Organisation

Every year 1.7 million children under five die from air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation and inadequate hygiene, the reports found.

The first highlights that a large portion of the most common causes of death among children – diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia – are preventable by providing access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said: "A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children.

"Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."

The second report provides an overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health.

Statistics include: 570,000 children under five years die each year from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and second-hand smoke.

About 361, 000 children under five years die every year due to diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said: "A polluted environment results in a heavy toll on the health of our children.

"Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits."

Worldwide, 11–14 per cent of children aged 5 years and older currently report asthma symptoms and an estimated 44 per cent of these are related to air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke and indoor mould and damp.

Children are also exposed to hazardous chemicals such as fluoride, lead and mercury pesticides and also persistent organic pollutants, which find their way into the food chain.

Children's diseases and deaths can be prevented by reducing air pollution, improving safe water and sanitation and improving hygiene (including in health facilities where women give birth), protecting pregnant women from second-hand tobacco smoke, and building safer environments.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) countries are working on targets to steer interventions for children’s environmental health, as well as to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five by 2030.