A new report from the UN's children's agency, UNICEF, says about a third of the two billion children in the world who are breathing toxic air live in northern India and neighbouring countries, risking serious health effects including damage to their lungs, brains and other organs.
"Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day", said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF. Their respiratory tracts are more susceptible to infection, their immune systems weaker than an average adult's, and their brains are still developing.
As Indians wake to smoke-filled skies from a weekend of festival fireworks, Delhi's worst season for air pollution begins - with dire consequences. "Air pollution is yet another threat to their health and well being - and yet another way in which the world is letting them down".
Almost one child in seven around the globe breathes outdoor air that is at least six times dirtier than global guidelines, according to the study by the UN Children's Fund, which called air pollution a leading factor in child mortality.
The WHO estimates 3.7 million people were killed by outdoor air pollution in 2012, including 127,000 children aged under five.
A WHO report released in September indicated that 90 percent of the world's poplulation breathes polluted air and that three million deaths each year are linked to exposure from indoor and outdoor pollution. He noted that outdoor and indoor air pollution are two sides of the same coin. By Monday morning, the city was recording PM 2.5 levels above 900 mcg per cubic meter - more than 90 times higher than the World Health Organization recommendation of no more than 10 mcg per cubic meter.
"Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer", the World Health Organization says. Numerous affected children are from low- and middle-income countries, where pollution comes from vehicles, burning waste and dust. "Developing countries - both low- and middle-income - can and must do so, too". Beyond significant levels of outdoor pollution, they often encounter additional air pollution at home, where unvented cooking with fuels such as wood, dried leaves, dung or even coal is common.
"Air pollution affects poor children the most", Nicholas Rees, a UNICEF specialist on climate and economic analysis who wrote the report, told Reuters.
UNICEF called on the United Nations -led meeting in Morocco to hasten a shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energies such as wind or solar power, to improve children's access to health care, limit children's exposure to pollution and to step up monitoring of the air.
UNICEF on Monday urged world leaders to do just that by moving faster to cut fossil-fuel combustion and accelerate clean-energy development.
-Increase children's access to health care, including more immunization programs and information programs about pneumonia, a leading killer of children under 5. "And because we can, we must".
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