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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/lenvironneme...


1.7 million children killed by their environment each year

Translated Monday 20 March 2017, by Meghan O’Shea

According to two reports published by the World Health Organization, more than a quarter of all deaths of children under the age of 5 years are due to pollution and unsanitary conditions.

The figure is overwhelming. Each year, 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die because of pollution or lack of proper sanitation. So says the sad results of two reports by the World Health Organization (WHO), published yesterday. The first, entitled "Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health," offers a comprehensive overview of the consequences of environmental pollution on children’s health and illustrates the extent of the problem.

570,000 children die of respiratory infections (such as pneumonia) which are attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, as well as passive smoking. 361,000 die from acute diarrhea as a result of inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. 270,000 babies do not survive beyond their first month, because they were born prematurely and have no access to healthcare facilities, because they come into the world in a place where safe drinking water is not available, or because they are born in an environment where the air is polluted. 200,000 children die from malaria, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

"A polluted environment is deadly, especially for young children," says Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, in a statement cited by the organization. "Young children are particularly vulnerable to air and water pollution as their bodies and immune systems are still developing and their bodies, especially their airways, are small," she says.

The second report - "Inheriting a sustainable world: atlas on children’s health and the environment" - reveals that many of the diseases which are the major causes of death in children aged 1 month to 5 years (diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia) could be prevented through interventions "that are known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to potable drinking water and the use of clean fuels for cooking." The WHO states, for example, that malaria deaths could be prevented by reducing the number of mosquito breeding sites and by covering water tanks. "If we invest in eliminating environmental related health risks, for example improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, the health benefits will be considerable," says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO’s Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department.

Emerging environmental hazards

Beyond the "traditional" hazards, the WHO also points to new environmental hazards such as exposure to pollutants (pesticides, endocrine disruptors), electronic and electrical waste (such as discarded mobile phones) and climate change. These emerging risks expose children to toxins that can lead to "reduced intelligence, attention deficits, lung damage and cancer," says the report. Climate change, which increases temperatures, carbon dioxide levels, and promotes the production of pollen, can lead to the development of asthma. Globally, asthma symptoms have been reported in 11% to 14% of children under 5 years of age.

Last year, the WHO stated that nearly a quarter of deaths worldwide were the result of causes related to the environment at large. To try to stem preventable deaths of infants and children, by 2030, the organization has called on today’s policy makers to use the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), defined in January 2016 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to "eradicate poverty by addressing its causes."

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