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Air Quality

Published on March 7th, 2017 | by James Ayre


1.7 Million Children Die Every Year From Unhealthy Environments, WHO Reports

March 7th, 2017 by  

Roughly 1.7 million children are now dying every year as a result of unhealthy living environments — exposure to high outdoor and indoor air pollution levels, chemical pollution, second-hand smoke, dirty water, and poor sanitation and hygiene — according to the World Health Organization.

To put that another way, more than 1 in 4 deaths that occur before the age of 5 are now related to “environmental” problems (this includes poor quality water and hygiene).

“A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children,” commented Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

A report from the WHO dubbed Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment notes that “a large portion of the most common causes of death among children aged 1 month to 5 years — diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia — are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.”

While this should probably be obvious, it’s important to note here that many early-life deaths are at least partly the result of exposure to pollutants while in the womb. Such pollutants increase the risk of preterm births considerably.

WHO also published a companion report to the one above, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health. Touching on the findings from that, as noted in the WHO press release on the news, every year:

→ 570,000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke.

→ 361,000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.

→ 270,000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution.

→ 200,000 deaths of children under 5 years from malaria could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage.

→ 200,000 children under 5 years die from unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning.

The press release also includes this interesting part: “emerging environmental hazards, such as electronic and electrical waste (such as old mobile phones) that is improperly recycled, expose children to toxins which can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficits, lung damage, and cancer. The generation of electronic and electrical waste is forecasted to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2018, to 50 million metric tonnes by 2018.”

This is a serious issue, and one that is rarely discussed by the mainstream media — everything from your phone, to your car, to your TV, to your computer, are filled nowadays with highly toxic (and often quite persistent) materials. These products, though, often simply get chucked in the garbage, or on the side of the road, or in a nearby river — leading to the direct release of these materials and chemicals into the same environment that you depend on for your survival. Clearly, though, this doesn’t seem to matter to many people. Or, they think it doesn’t matter.

As the press release notes: “Children are also exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water, air, and products around them. Chemicals, such as fluoride, lead and mercury pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, and others in manufactured goods, eventually find their way into the food chain. And, while leaded petrol has been phased out almost entirely in all countries, lead is still widespread in paints, affecting brain development.”

While the figures discussed above are “sobering,” the truth is that things are going to get considerably worse over the coming decades. This doesn’t seem to matter to most people, unfortunately, as the flashing lights on the latest smartphones are too interesting.

The whole report is worth a read, for those interested.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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