One in seven kids suffers acute air pollution, says UNICEF
• Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna among most polluted cities
• Govt deploys 1,473 midwives to health facilities
From the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has come a revelation that one in every seven of the world’s 300 million children lives in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution that are six or more times higher than international guidelines.
The new fact came on the heels of data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) pointing to some striking findings, including the inclusion of several Nigerian cities among the top 10 most polluted by PM10 (particulate matter) standards. Moreover, many of the most polluted places in the world are no longer megacities and capitals, but rather medium-sized cities, suburban and manufacturing centres.
The most polluted city in the world (by PM10 measurements) is now Onitsha in Nigeria. Two other Nigerian cities, Kaduna and Aba, are also among the top 10 most polluted cities.
The UNICEF’s “Clear the Air for Children” report uses satellite imagery to show, for the first time, how many children are exposed to outdoor pollution that exceeds global guidelines set by the WHO, and where they live across the globe.
The findings came a few days ahead of the COP 22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, where UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries.
“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
“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.”
The satellite imagery confirms that around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the WHO. South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million children. The East Asia and Pacific region has 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.
The study also examined the heavy toll of indoor pollution, commonly caused by use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating, which mostly affect children in low-income, rural areas.
Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children’s health.
Children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable. Young children also breathe faster than adults, and take in more air relative to their body weight. The most disadvantaged, who already tend to have poorer health and inadequate access to health services, are the most vulnerable to the illnesses caused by polluted air.
To protect children from air pollution, UNICEF is asking world leaders attending COP 22 to, among others:
• Reduce pollution- All countries should work to meet WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as cutting back on fossil fuel combustion and investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources; and
The Executive Secretary, Friends of the Environment, Mr. Chike Chikwendu, told The Guardian that the new development was disturbing. He explained that children are more susceptible to air pollution and diseases such as lung cancer, which is more prevalent now.