No society can afford to ignore air pollution.
300 million children worldwide (about one in seven) breathe toxic air on a daily basis, according to a UNICEF report released Monday.
Specifically, that air is six times more polluted than World Health Organization standards allow. A total of two billion children worldwide live in areas where the air quality exceeds those standards.
South Asia has the most affected children: 620 million. That includes India, where fireworks from the festival of Diwali are currently making the air very dangerous.
(Photo copyright UNICEF / Singh)
Africa is the second-most affected region with 520 million children, and the East Asia/Pacific region has 450 million.
(Photo copyright UNICEF)
Why is toxic air so dangerous?
The chief source of toxic air is fossil fuels and burning trash. The report also references indoor pollution, largely caused by burning coal and wood to heat homes and cook food.
Both are linked to respiratory diseases responsible for almost 1 in 10 deaths of kids under the age of 5, according to UNICEF. The pollutants can cross the blood-brain barrier and hinder cognitive development.
It's getting worse
According to UNICEF, the chances of air getting cleaner don't look good right now. Nations are becoming more urbanized, meaning more fuel burned. Air pollution increased worldwide about 8 percent between 2008 and 2013.
And it hits lowest-income countries hardest, with up to 88 percent of deaths tied to pollution coming from lower-income countries.
UNICEF urged a cutback on fossil fuel use to improve kids' health care as a big step to mitigate the damage.