WHO Report: One in four children die each year from unhealthy environments

Nearly 2 million children a year lose their lives to conditions caused by environmental pollution and hazards.


A new pair of reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) this week reported that one in four young children die every year as a result of unhealthy environments. This equates to 1.7 million children every year.

The unhealthy environments include variables such as air pollution, second-hand smoke, and poor access to clean water which lead to respiratory infections and poisoning.

The problems start when babies are still in utero. According to Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General, “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

These children that are exposed to air pollution go on to have a greater risk of developing pneumonia while young as well as a high chance of having a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma.

One of the reports, Inheriting a Sustainable World, stated that in 2012 531,000 children died as a result of household air pollution, chronic respiratory infections, lung disease, cancer and other health effects. 361,000 children died from diarrhea as a result of not having access to clean water.

Other areas that cause problems are environments that are prime breeding ground for mosquitos, which spread life-threatening diseases such as malaria. Children are also threaten by environmental hazards such as chemicals, electronic waste and climate change:

“The toxicity of many chemicals in common use is not well understood. The regulatory requirements for chemicals, where safety testing must be conducted by manufacturers and the results assessed by regulators, may be limited for some types and uses of chemicals.

“Chemicals from pesticides, plastics, and other manufactured goods, as well as from environmental contamination, eventually find their way into the food chain. These include arsenic, fluoride, lead, mercury, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls and persistent organic pollutants, among others.

“Of particular concern are endocrine disrupting chemicals, which may leach into food from certain kinds of packaging and have been linked with liver, thyroid and neurodevelopmental effects. Their effects may be especially damaging to children, whose bodies are still developing.”

The report also stated that “Climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels, is one of the greatest new threats to children’s environmental health.”

The second report, Don’t Pollute My Future! listed different diseases and potentially fatal hazards threatening young children as a result of these environmental problems.

Asthma was specifically mentioned, affecting 11-14 percent of children over five globally. This number has been increasing over the past decades.

“Ambient air pollution, eg from motor vehicle exhaust, was associated with the development of childhood asthma. Both ambient and household air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke can furthermore lead to increased asthma severity and exacerbations in young children.

“Prenatal exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke can negatively affect lung growth and development and both pre- and postnatal exposure can increase wheezing, asthma exacerbations and asthma incidence.

“Other environmental exposures linked to asthma development and severity in children include indoor mould and dampness and indoor allergen exposure, eg from dust mites, pollens, cockroaches or mice.”

270,000 children a year die during their first month of life from conditions that could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution. Yet leaders like President Trump want to roll back regulation which make our environment, and our waterways, safer.

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.