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Indonesian children play near a heavily polluted river in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, March 22, 2011. March 22 is adopted by the United Nations as World Water Day to raise awareness of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources around the world. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Pollution kills 1.7 million kids under the age of 5 every year, according to WHO reports


Two World Health Organization reports released Monday  found that pollution and its effects kill 1.7 million children under the age of 5 every year.

Many of the most common causes of death for children worldwide are preventable, and pollution is a root cause of many of them, including diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia. Even babies in their mothers' womb can be exposed to dangerous levels of pollutants. Kids that survive the first five years are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer due to exposure to air pollution.

By the numbers

  • WHO estimates 26 percent of childhood deaths in kids less than five years old could be prevented by reducing environmental risks.
  • The good news: The percentage of environment-related deaths dropped from 37 percent to 26 percent from 2002 to 2012. 
  • The deadliest types of environmentally-related diseases are respiratory infections (15.5 percent of child deaths in 2015) and diarrheal diseases (10 percent). 

The WHO broke down of some of the numbers in an infographic.

The causes

Respiratory infections can be caused by exposure to fossil fuels. Many poorer countries rely on wood to fuel cooking, and that smoke exposure can be dangerous.  Secondhand tobacco smoke and mold also pose threats to kids.

Diarrheal diseases are often caused by contaminated water and hygiene-related issues. And even if water is clean, standing water bodies are hotbeds for mosquitoes and thus malaria, which killed an estimated 300,000 kids under 5 in 2015. 

A child rides a bicycle in Isla Maciel, at the edge of the Riachuelo river, in Buenos Aires, May 7, 2009. According to Greenpeace, the Riachuelo is one of the most polluted rivers in Latin America. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Other leading causes of pollution include electronic waste (which contains toxins that can cause lung damage and cancer) and climate change (rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels can boost pollen growth and may cause asthma).

A polluted environment is a deadly one - particularly for young children.
Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general

The WHO report lists 17 goals to reduce child deaths, including ending hunger, ensuring access to cheap clean energy, making cities safer, and fighting climate change and destruction of natural resources. 


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