Environmental hazards kill 1.7 million children under 5 each year
According to two new World Health Organization (WHO) reports, about 1.7 million children under the age of five years die each year because of environmental hazards. It's the first such estimate of the child death toll from environmental causes.
"That terrible figure" makes up about a quarter of child deaths under five, stated Dr Maria Neira, WHO's public health and environment department director and lead author on the reports. In addition, children can experience mental and physical developmental disorders and an increased lifelong risk for certain diseases because of exposure to pollutants.
The causes of death include respiratory diseases and illnesses spread by water pollution like diarrhea and intestinal infections, as well as non-communicable diseases like cancer, congenital diseases and asthma. These might arise from air pollution or from exposure to toxins in the environment, like heavy metals.
Because unhealthy environments might include stagnant water where mosquitoes breed, deaths from mosquito-borne diseases like malaria or dengue are included.
The report finds that indoor and outdoor air pollution is one of the most extreme hazards to children's health and it's on the rise. Even though air pollution levels have dropped over the years in high-income countries, on average the global figures for air pollutants have risen eight per cent between 2008 and 2013, according to the WHO. Air pollution is associated with a majority of the 600,000 child deaths from respiratory illnesses each year.
Electronic waste has also become a rising source of worry, Neira said. In many low- and middle-income countries, electronic parts are illegally or informally recycled.
The report helps to clearly establish the link between pollution and children's health.