A healthy environment for future generations

Julia Moisan
26 June 2018
According to two WHO reports published in 2017 ('Don't pollute my future!' and 'Inheriting a sustainable world?'), environmental pollution is estimated to kill 1.7 million children every year.

More than one in four deaths in children under the age of five are due to an unhealthy environment. Every year, environmental risks such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, passive smoking, unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene cause the deaths of nearly 1.7 million children under the age of five. These conditions can also lead to diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. According to Dr. Margaret Chan, ex-Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), children's developing organisms and immune systems make them especially vulnerable to polluted air and water. A healthier environment –which include, amongst other things, safe drinking water and clean cooking fuel- could sharply reduce child mortality.

In addition, harmful exposure to these conditions starts well before birth, even when the infant is still in the mother’s womb. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk of premature birth. Additionally, infants who have been exposed to indoor or outdoor air pollution or passive smoking will have an increased risk of developing a heart disease or a pneumonia in childhood, as well chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

To combat this phenomenon, it is necessary to improve access to safe drinking water, reduce indoor and outdoor pollution, improve sanitation and hygiene (especially for pregnant women) and protect pregnant women from passive smoking.

Every year, nearly 570,000 children under the age of five die from respiratory diseases, 361,000 die from diarrhea as a result of poor access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, 270,000 premature children die in their first month of life and nearly 200,000 children die from malaria, which could be prevented through environmental action.

Emerging environmental hazards such as improperly recycled electronic and electrical waste (such as old mobile phones) expose children to toxins and can lead to attention deficit disorders, reduced intelligence, lung damage or cancer. Unfortunately, these types of electronic and electrical waste are expected to increase by 19 % between 2014 and 2018 and to 50 million metric tons by 2018.  

To combat this phenomenon, it is necessary to improve access to safe drinking water, reduce indoor and outdoor pollution, improve sanitation and hygiene (especially for pregnant women) and protect pregnant women from passive smoking. Possible solutions to put an end to this scourge include setting up healthier, noise-free and pollution-free sanitation in schools and raising children's awareness of the importance of good nutrition. In terms of urban planning: more green spaces, safe pedestrian areas and cycling paths. In the agriculture sector: reduced use of pesticides and prohibition of child labour.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals established that by 2030, no newborn or child under the age of five should succumb to a preventable disease anymore. To achieve this goal, all the mentioned measures should be implemented as soon as possible.

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