A new report by the World Health Organisation says India recorded the highest number of air pollution-induced deaths of children below five years in 2016. According to the report titled ‘Air Pollution and Child Health’ released in Geneva, India saw 60,987 deaths of children in 2016 that could be linked to their exposure to PM2.5.
These tiny particles are so fine that they can enter the bloodstream and lodge deep into the lungs.
Half of all deaths due to acute lower respiratory infections, which include pneumonia and influenza, in children below five years is caused by exposure to high air pollution levels in low- and middle-income countries, estimates WHO.
Nigeria ( 47,674), Pakistan (21,136), and Democratic Republic of Congo (12,890) followed India, completing the list of the worst five countries in child mortality.
In India, more girls under the age of five died than boys due to pollution. About 32,889 girls died, compared to 28,097 boys. Across the world, at least 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by air pollution in 2016.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
14 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world are in India, according to the WHO. India faces the highest air pollution-related mortality and disease burden in the world. More than 2 million deaths are said to occur prematurely in India due to pollution and this accounts for 25% of the global deaths due to air pollution.
Effect on pregnant women
Pregnant women living in highly polluted areas often have babies who suffer from a range of issues including low birth weight. In the long run, air pollution impacts the neurodevelopment of the child, their cognitive abilities and motor development. It can trigger asthma and childhood cancer. In their adult life, these children are at greater risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Correlation between poverty and exposure to dirty air
WHO finds a strong correlation between poverty and exposure to air pollution. Children in low-income communities suffer disproportionately higher effects of air pollution. “Poverty causes people to rely on polluting energy sources for their basic needs, and poverty compounds the health risks associated with their use. Poverty also limits people’s capacity to improve the environment in which they raise their children,” the report says.