Foul air kills over one lakh Indian children

Last Updated 29 October 2018, 21:19 IST

More than 1,01,000 Indian children below five years of age are killed by air pollution, making it the worst nation in the world to breathe, says a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday.

The WHO report estimates that in 2016, nearly six lakh children died worldwide from acute lower respiratory tract infections caused by polluted air and a sixth of them were Indians. One in 10 deaths in children under five years of age is due to air pollution.

In the report, the apex health agency took into account impacts of ambient air pollution and household air pollution to compare the air qualities of various countries and calculated the number of deaths in kids below five years and those between 5-14 years.

In India, as many as 1,01,788 children below five die due to air pollution with a rate of 84.8 per 1,00,000. In absolute number it is the world’s highest, followed by Nigeria (98,000 deaths) whereas in terms of death rate, India is among the world’s worst countries.

The number dropped to 7,234 deaths for children aged between 5-14 years with a death rate of 2.9 per 1,00,000. But air pollution adversely impacts their physical and cognitive growths as found by several scientific studies.

India houses 14 of the world’s most polluted cities including national capital Delhi, tourists’ favourite Agra and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi.

Globally, 93% of world’s children under 15 years are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include 630 million of children under 5 years, and 1.8 billion under 15 years.

In low- and middle-income countries, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.

“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”

One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations — at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.

Newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that regularly use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting.A closer look at the Indian data suggests that girl children die more than boys, which may be associated with the general trend of girls receiving lesser medical and social attention than boys.

“The WHO data again points towards low and middle income countries being heavily impacted by both ambient as well as household air pollution. It is alarming that in India, almost the entire population resides in areas with pollution levels exceeding WHO and Central Pollution Control Board National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” says NGO Greenpeace in a statement.

(Published 29 October 2018, 19:55 IST)

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