The cost of a polluted environment: 1.7 million child deaths a year, says WHO

Back to search

More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, say two new WHO reports.

The first report, Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment reveals 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.

"A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children," says 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."

Harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, when infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Reports

More than a decade after WHO published Inheriting the world: The atlas of children’s health and the environment in 2004, this new publication presents the continuing and emerging challenges to children’s environmental health.

This new edition is not simply an update but a more detailed review; we take into account changes in the major environmental hazards to children’s health over the last 13 years, due to increasing urbanization, industrialization, globalization and climate change, as well as efforts in the health sector to reduce children’s environmental exposures. Inheriting a sustainable world? Atlas on children’s health and the environment aligns with the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, launched in 2015, in stressing that every child deserves the opportunity to thrive, in safe and healthy settings.

This book seeks to promote the importance of creating sustainable environments and reducing the exposure of children to modifiable environmental hazards. The wide scope of the SDGs offers a framework within which to work and improve the lives of all children.

Related links

Source
UNCCD Be the first to Know