WHO – Every day around 93% of the worlds children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. Tragically, many of them die: WHO estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.
A new WHO report on Air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air examines the heavy toll of both ambient (outside) and household air pollution on the health of the worlds children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The report is being launched on the eve of WHOs first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health.
It reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr 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
“Air Pollution is stunting our childrens brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.
“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management, ” she added.
- Air pollution affects neurodevelopment, leading to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affecting mental and motor development.
- Air pollution is damaging childrens lung function, even at lower levels of exposures
- Globally, 93% of the worlds children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years
- In low- and middle-income countries around the world, 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.
- More than 40% of the worlds population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 – is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
- About 600000 deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.
- Together, household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.
- Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.
WHOs First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, which opens in Geneva on Tuesday 30 October will provide the opportunity for world leaders; ministers of health, energy, and environment; mayors; heads of intergovernmental organizations; scientists and others to commit to act against this serious health threat, which shortens the lives of around 7 million people each year. Actions should include:
- Action by the health sector to inform, educate, provide resources to health professionals, and engage in inter-sectoral policy making.
- Implementation of policies to reduce air pollution: All countries should work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources. Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities and thereby reducing community air pollution. The exclusive use of clean technologies and fuels for household cooking, heating and lighting activities can drastically improve the air quality within homes and in the surrounding community.
- Steps to minimize childrens exposure to polluted air: Schools and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like busy roads, factories and power plants.
Oxfam forced to suspend Ebola response in DR Congo following pre-election violence
Oxfam has been forced to suspend its work in the Ebola ravaged areas of Beni and Butembo, due to vio..
Oxfam has been forced to suspend its work in the Ebola ravaged areas of Beni and Butembo, due to violent protests following the announcement that people in these areas wont be able to cast their votes for a new president, when the rest of country goes to the polls this Sunday.
Raphael Mbuyi, Oxfams acting Country Director in the DRC said: “This is an extremely worrying situation, as every time the Ebola response has been suspended before weve seen a big spike in the number of new cases. This could mean Ebola spreading to even more people and potentially other countries in the region, putting many more lives at risk.
“However, its not surprising that people who have had their votes taken away at the last minute are frustrated and going to the streets. These people deserve to have their say as well.
“All parties need to find a way for people who have been devastated by Ebola and have lived through decades of violent conflict, to cast their vote.
“Whatever the outcome, there needs to be an end to the years of misery people in this country have had to endure. Just because elections are being held does not mean there will be peace.”
Notes to editors
Spokespeople available for interview in Kinshasa, DRC and in the UK.
For more information or to request an interview, contact email@example.com or call +44 (0)1865 472498.
For updates, please follow @Oxfam.
Gaza’s water crisis is ‘a ticking time bomb’
Reporter Sandy Tolan – In the Middle East’s Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of contested land where three..
Reporter Sandy Tolan – In the Middle East’s Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of contested land where three out of four people are refugees, unsafe drinking water has led to a worsening health crisis. Gazan children suffer from diarrhea, kidney disease, stunted growth and impaired IQ.
Twenty years ago, 85 percent of Gazas drinking wells were too contaminated for human consumption. Today, that figure is 97 percent.
Local tap water is too salty to drink because the aquifer below Gaza has been over-pumped so severely that seawater is flowing in. Two-thirds of Gazans get water delivered by truck. Desalinated water is pumped into rooftop tanks via hoses. But the desalinated water is unregulated and because this water has virtually no salt, its prone to fecal contamination. When children drink this water, they get diarrhea.
Repeated bouts of diarrhea can lead to stunting and developmental problems, including a measurable impact on IQ. Late last year a British medical journal found an “alarming magnitude”of stunting among Gazan children.
Children drink and fill water jugs at a mosque in Gaza City.
Credit: Abdel Kareem Hanna/The World
“If you really want to change the lives of people, you have to solve the water issue first,” says Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “Otherwise, you will see a huge collapse of everything in Gaza.”
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” agrees Gidon Bromberg, director of EcoPeace Middle East, based in Tel Aviv. “We have a situation where two million people no longer have access to potable groundwater. When people are drinking unhealthy water … disease is a direct consequence. Should pandemic disease break out in Gaza, people will simply start moving to the fences of Israel and Egypt, and they won’t be moving with stones or with rockets. Theyll be moving with empty buckets, desperately calling out for clean water.”
Assigning blame for the plight of Gazans is not exactly simple. Take the fact that only three percent of Gazas drinking water wells are actually drinkable. Is that because Gazas citrus farmers pumped too much? Or because Israeli agricultural settlers depleted a deep pocket of fresh water before they left Gaza in 2005? Or the simple fact that Gazas population quadrupled in a matter of weeks when towns and villages fell to Israel in 1948?
Food- and water-borne diseases have also been a concern — the power is shut off for 20 hours a day. Are Israel and Egypt to blame for withholding fuel deliveries? Or Israel, for bombing water and sewage infrastructure in Gaza during the 2014 war? Or the fight between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which deprives Gazans of critical medicines? Israels economic blockade of Gaza contributes to worsening poverty, skyrocketing unemployment and child malnutrition, according to several human rights groups.
A peace deal could have connected Gaza to the West Bank, where the vast Mountain Aquifer is big enough to end Gazas water crisis. As it is, there is no peace. The two Palestinian territories are splintered. And Israel has effective control over all the water.
Critics say Israel could solve the whole problem by simply implementing power lines into Gaza. But Israeli officials say they are already sending water to Gaza and to do more would be rewarding Gazas bad actors.
“What’s going on in Gaza is a real catastrophe,” says Ori Shor, spokesperson of the Israeli Water Authority. “The situation there is unbearable. But it’s also frustrating, at least from our point of view, because it’s a bit difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. The problem in Gaza is really that Hamas does nothing to try even to solve the problem.”
Shor says Israel is providing more than twice the amount of water they are obligated to provide based on current agreements. But that amount is just a fraction of the clean water Gazans need every day.
Fifteen members of the Nimnim family at home in the Beach refugee camp.
Credit: Abdel Kareem Hanna/The World
As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, humanitarian groups estimate that Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020 — barely a year from now. To avoid that, international relief agencies and the Palestinian Water Authority are working on a network of big sewage and desalination plants.
Donors have pledged $500 million to build out this network. But one large obstacle remains: On most days, Gaza has electricity for only four hours, which makes running these projects almost impossible.
“At this time, we dont have [enough electricity], but we hope,” says Kamal Abu Moammar, manager of the Southern Gaza Desalination Plant. “Many of our ministers say they will solve this problem. But we don’t know when. Or how.”