One in seven of the world's children is exposed to pollution levels six or more times higher than international standards set by the World Health Organization, according to a new report by UNICEF. The report was released a week ahead of the United Nations Climate Change conference in Marrakech.
"Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year," says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, "and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day."
Some two billion children live in regions where outdoor air pollution exceeds WHO's minimum air quality guidelines, with 620 million of those children living in South Asia, followed by 520 million children in Africa, and 450 million children in the East Asia and Pacific region.
Around 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international limits.
UNICEF says young children are particularly susceptible to indoor and outdoor air pollution because their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.
UNICEF says it will ask the countries attending the climate change conference to take "four urgent steps" to protect children from air pollution:
Those steps are:
1. adopt measures to reduce pollution;
2. increase children's access to healthcare;
3. minimize children's exposure to pollution; and
4. establish better monitoring of air pollution.
Lake said "We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air. Both are central to our future."