According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 in 4 deaths of children under the age of 5 are due to environmental risks. The most common causes of childhood death (diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia) are preventable by taking steps to reduce pollution and increase access to safe water and clean cooking fuels. Even for the children who live, increased exposure to air pollution can increase their lifelong risk for heart disease, strokes, and respiratory diseases, like asthma.
Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, states that “investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits.”
Areas where improvements could be made include using safe building materials, providing clean fuel, ensuring safe water, the creation of more green space, reducing the use of harmful pesticides in agriculture, and the management of hazardous waste and chemicals. These efforts would benefit children as well as adults, as many of these same environmental factors that negatively affect children’s health also increase the death risk for adults. Using risk analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project with annual average background levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5s) from the World Health Organization, Greenpeace calculated the increased risk of death at varying levels of air pollution in 3,000 cities around the world.