Tuesday 26th September 2023

Rising Air Pollution, Serious Risk for Children’s Life, Development

Every day close to 93 percent (1.5 billion) of the world’s children under 15 years breathe polluted air


Rising Air Pollution, Serious Risk for Children’s Life, Development

600,000 children succumbed to severe lower respiratory infections due to polluted air in 2016, said WHO in its recent estimates!

Every day close to 93 percent (1.5 billion) of the world’s children under 15 years breathe polluted air that puts their development and health at a ‘high risk’. 

The new WHO report ‘Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air’ throws light on air pollution’s heavy impact on world children’s environment (ambient and home), especially those living in low and middle-income countries.


The report will be launched at WHO’s first ever ‘Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health’ in Geneva on October 30, 2018.

Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health 2018

World Health Organization Global Conference 2018

Report Findings
According to the report, when pregnant woman breathe polluted air, they are more likely to have premature deliveries and have ‘small’, ‘low birth-weight’ babies.

Air pollution also interferes with cognitive ability, neurodevelopment and triggers asthma & childhood cancer.

Children exposed to high levels of air pollution, may be at higher risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease in later stages of life.

These young people are more vulnerable because they breathe more rapidly than adults, consuming more pollutants.

Moreover, they are usually closer to the ground level where some pollutants are at heavy concentrations. This is a crucial time since their brains and bodies are still developing.

WHO- Urbans Air Pollution

World Health Organization: WHO

Just-borns and young children are vulnerable to household air pollution caused by technologies for cooking, heating & lighting and polluting fuels.

“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s 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, Health Environmental and Social Determinants, 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, ” Neira added.

Listed below are some of the report’s key findings:

  • Air pollution affects neurodevelopment, leading to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affecting mental and motor development
  • Air pollution is damaging children’s lung function, even at lower levels of exposures
  • Globally, 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which includes 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 years are exposed to PM 2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines in high-income countries
  • More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 years of age, is exposed to high levels of household air pollution, majorly from cooking with polluting technologies and fuels
  • About 600,000 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 every 10 deaths among children under five years of age

Air Pollution and Children

WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution & Health
WHO’s Global conference on Air Pollution & Health will bring together intergovernmental organization heads, health energy and environment ministries, mayors, scientists and world leaders to action the cause against air pollution which reduces the life span of about 7 million people per year.  

The conference involving key stakeholders will conduct the following action items:

  • The health sector will be responsible for informing, educating and providing resources to health professionals and engaging inter-sectoral policy making
  • Implementation of policies to reduce air pollution including 
    • Countries should work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines
    • Government should reduce the over-dependence on fossil fuels
    • Employ better waste management practices
    • Usage of clean technologies for households
  • Stakeholders should take steps to reduce children’s exposure to polluted air including arranging schools and playgrounds away from major pollution sources including factories.

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