The knowledge of the fact that air pollution poses an imminent threat to human health is known, however, data published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a new report titled, ‘Air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air’ shows the staggering extent of damage in India.

India’s performance in the WHO report

As per the new report, India recorded the highest number of air-pollution induced deaths of children below five years of age. In the study, WHO evaluated the effect of polluted air on children across 194 countries. The report released in Geneva on October 29 stated that in India, at least 1,00,000 children below five died in 2016 alone due to health conditions that arose as a result of high indoor and outdoor pollution.

Reportedly, indoor air pollution such as the burning of fossil fuel like coal led to the death of 67,000 children below the age of five in India, whereas around 61,000 children died due to outdoor air pollution. The report found that more number of girl children (32,889 ) passed away in 2016 than boys (28,097).

The countries that follow India are Nigeria (98,001), Pakistan (38,252), Democratic Republic of Congo (32,647) and Ethiopia (20,330).  In India, 98% of children belonging to this age group are exposed to high PM 2.5 levels which exceed WHO’s prescribed annual standard of 25 micrograms per cubic metres, reports The Hindustan Times. These particulate matters are so tiny that they can enter the bloodstream and cause damage.

WHO estimates that half of all deaths in low and middle-income countries are due to acute lower respiratory infections like pneumonia and influenza. Interestingly, WHO has found a correlation between poverty and air pollution as it states that poverty causes people to rely on polluting energy sources for their basic needs. While in low and middle-income countries, 98% of children under the age of five are exposed to high PM 2.5 level, in high-income countries, only 52% of the children were exposed to the same level of threat.

Pregnant woman at risk too

Among pregnant woman, the risk of air pollution on foetuses is large. It states that pregnant women may give birth prematurely and have small or low-birth-weight children. The report stated, “Children are uniquely vulnerable and susceptible to air pollution, especially during fetal development and in their earliest years. Their lungs, organs and brains are still maturing. They breathe faster than adults, taking in more air and, with it, more pollutants. Children live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations.” Moreover, children who are exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at higher risk of developing chronic diseases later in life – ultimately hampering their quality of life.

Global health risk

An estimated 91% of the global population is exposed to air pollution, which makes it possibly the biggest environmental health risk. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General has reportedly said that the polluted air is not only ruining the lives of millions of children across the globe while adding that it is inexcusable.

Reportedly, WHO is supporting the implementation of some health-wise policy measures like that of adopting clean cooking, promoting the use of cleaner modes of transport and energy efficient urban planning among others. The report is going to be launched at WHO’s First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, in Geneva on Tuesday, 30 October.

With the air pollution indices deteriorating in northern India, the National Capital Region of Delhi to be more specific, the report brings into perspective the extent of the damage. While local governments have been trying to curb air pollution, efforts should also be made from our part to bring about a change.


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