UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore on Thursday said that immediate action was needed in South Asia to clean the air for children.
She said about 620 million children in the region breathe polluted, toxic air.
‘I was just in South Asia where I saw first-hand how children continue to suffer from the dire consequences of air pollution,’ she said in a statement.
‘The air quality was at a crisis level. You could smell the toxic fog even from behind an air filtration mask. From every neighbourhood, you could see the pollution obscuring buildings, trees and people. Schools and offices closed or curtailed hours. With winter approaching, the situation is set to become even worse,’ she said.
Henrietta said children were vulnerable to pollution, as they have smaller lungs, breathe twice as fast as adults, and lack the immunities that come with age.
Air pollution is associated with one of the biggest killers of children – pneumonia, and linked to asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections. Air pollution damages brain tissue and undermines cognitive development in babies and young children, leading to lifelong consequences that can affect their learning outcomes and future potential.
‘The toxicity to children’s brain development and health is also toxic to society, which no government can afford to ignore,’ she said.
Health expenses may increase if children need care and treatment. Parents may need to stay home too, in order to care for their children.
‘UNICEF is calling for urgent action to address this air quality crisis. Governments in the region and around the world should take urgent steps to reduce air pollution by investing in cleaner, renewable sources of energy to replace fossil fuel combustion; provide affordable access to clean public transport; increase green spaces in urban areas; change agricultural practices and provide better waste management options to prevent open burning of harmful chemicals,’ Henrietta said.
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