Pollution kills millions of little kids a year, says world health organization



Very young children are at the greatest risk from their environment. Their developing organs and immune systems leave them vulnerable to infections, parasites, and the effects of pollution. Based on new reports from the World Health Organization, the death toll is high: Nearly six million children aged four or younger die annually, and about a quarter of those deaths would be preventable if we cleaned up our polluted world.

Some of the connections between the environment and children's deaths are straightforward. Air pollution, whether it's from factories, car exhaust, or secondhand smoke from family members, is a major cause of fatal respiratory infections from pneumonia to sinusitis. Parts of the world without the money and resources necessary to ensure good hygiene and sanitation struggle with frequent cases of diarrhea. A fetus's exposure to chemicals and other environmental factors in the womb can also cause deadly complications.

Even clean drinking water can't solve everything, though, if there's insufficient infrastructure. For instance, malaria and dengue fever are more common in areas where the water supply is clean but not properly managed, becoming breeding grounds for disease-carrying pests. The report also looks at traffic accidents, drownings, fires, falls, and other deadly injuries that are caused by a lack of infrastructure needed to keep kids as safe as possible. These collectively account for a decent chunk of the "other" category in the chart above.

African children are by far the most frequent victims of environmental dangers. Of the 25 countries with the highest mortality rates for children less than five years old, all but four — Laos, Pakistan, Haiti, and Afghanistan — are in Africa, including all of the top 13. The 25 countries with the lowest death rates are found in Europe, with Israel, Singapore, and Australia the only exceptions.

This difference is a brutal and stark illustration of how poorer countries shoulder the burden of pollution and environmental damage. It also illustrates how the long-term impoverishing legacy of imperialism still shapes modern health disparities.

For all this, there's some cause for optimism. The World Health Organization's report is part of their long-term effort to eliminate these preventable deaths by 2030, and some progress has already been made. Since 1990, the child mortality rate has been cut in half, and more than two billion people have gained access to cleaner water and sanitation. Plenty more work still needs to be done in a short time to reach the goal, but the situation isn't as bleak as it could be.

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Pollution in Paris
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Pollution in Paris
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: The Eiffel Tower and the business district of La Defense surrounded by high levels of air pollution are seen at sunset on December 07, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). For the third consecutive day the alternating circulation in Paris was carried back to Paris announced the prefecture of police. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: The Eiffel Tower and the business district of La Defense surrounded by high levels of air pollution are seen at sunset on December 07, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). For the third consecutive day the alternating circulation in Paris was carried back to Paris announced the prefecture of police. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Cars drive on the Peripherique in Paris on December 8, 2016 as city authorities announced traffic restrictions would be extended to December 8, with a ban imposed on private cars with registration plates ending in even numbers. Paris was smothered on December 7 by its worst winter pollution in a decade, with commuters enjoying free public transport and half of all cars ordered off the road to try to clear the air. / AFP / JACQUES DEMARTHON (Photo credit should read JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: The Eiffel Tower and the business district of La Defense surrounded by high levels of air pollution are seen at sunset on December 07, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). For the third consecutive day the alternating circulation in Paris was carried back to Paris announced the prefecture of police. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: The Sacre-Coeur basilica surrounded by high levels of air pollution is seen at sunset on December 07, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). For the third consecutive day the alternating circulation in Paris was carried back to Paris announced the prefecture of police. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Water vapour billows from smokestacks at the incineration plant of Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, France at sunrise, France, December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
A small-particle haze hangs above the Eiffel Tower, that is seen on the horizon from Suresnes, near Paris, France, December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
The sun rises behind a tree as a small-particle haze hangs in the sky above the Paris region in France, December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A French policewoman stands in the street as she verifies automobile registration plates as authorities imposed alternate vehicle circulation days to reduce car traffic and pollution in Paris, France, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: The Eiffel Tower surrounded by high levels of air pollution is seen on December 08, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). Alternate traffic will be renewed on December 09. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: The Eiffel Tower surrounded by high levels of air pollution is seen on December 08, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). Alternate traffic will be renewed on December 09. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: A cyclist with a mask of protection against pollution during high levels of air pollution is seen on December 08, 2016 in Paris, France. The Paris region has experienced the longest and most intense 'winter' pollution spike in ten years, according to Airparif (Ile-de-France Air Quality Monitoring Association). Alternate traffic will be renewed on December 09. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
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The post Pollution Kills Millions Of Little Kids A Year, Says World Health Org appeared first on Vocativ.


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