Polluted environments killed 1.7 mn children each year: WHO

06 March 2017

Environmental pollutants cost an estimated 1.7 million lives among children under 5, each year the  World Health Organization said in reports released today.

Unsafe water, lack of sanitation, poor hygiene practices and indoor and outdoor pollution as also injuries have been identified as among the causes of the toll.

According to one new report, the most common causes of child death were preventable through interventions already available to the communities most affected. These causes were diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, which could be prevented using insecticide-treated bed nets, clean cooking fuels and improved access to clean water.

"A polluted environment is a deadly one - particularly for young children," Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, said in a statement. "Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."

Exposure of infants to indoor or outdoor air pollution, including second-hand smoke, posed an increased risk of pneumonia during childhood as also an increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases - such as asthma - for the rest of their lives, one report stated.

Over 90 per cent of the world's population was thought to breathe air that violated quality guidelines set by the WHO.

The reports further listed ways in which these risk factors could be removed to prevent disease and death.

In its report, Inheriting a sustainable world: Atlas on children's health and the environment, the WHO said harmful exposure could start in the womb, and then continue if infants and toddlers were exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke.

This increased their childhood risk of pneumonia as also their lifelong risk of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Air pollution also raised the life-long risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, according to the report.

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