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A man covers his face with a scarf as he rides in front of the landmark India Gate, enveloped by smoke and smog, on the morning following Diwali festival in New Delhi, India, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

300 million kids worldwide are breathing toxic air, according to a new UNICEF report


No society can afford to ignore air pollution.
Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director

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.

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Fulashree Nirmal cookes evening meal inside her house in her village. To address malnutrition among adivasi population in Sarguja district in Chhattisgarh, the district administration partnered with the gram panchayat (local self-government) and State Health Systems Resource Centre (an autonomous body of the Department of Health and Family Welfare) to start community-managed crèches in the district for children aged 6-36 months to provide two hot cooked meals daily to the children as well as pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers of infants aged 0-6 months. Locally called fulwaris, the formation and functioning of community crèches rest on community participation. The community also decides the place for setting up the fulwari, which is usually part of a house of a resident, voluntarily given for this purpose. Fulwaris are manned and managed by a group of mothers whose children attend the crèche, supported by the mitanin, who plays a crucial role in bringing the group of mothers together. UNICEF India/2014/

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)

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On 20 October 2016 in Lagos, Nigeria, smoke rises above Makoko, a fishing community mostly made up of structures on stilts above Lagos Lagoon. Vehicle emissions, diesel generators, burning of biomass and garbage and other environmental waste greatly affect the communities water and air quality. Residents of Makoko rely on fishing to make a living and complain that the fish stock has dwindled in recent years as a result. They also have trouble breathing and many cough out soot on a daily basis.

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.

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