By Seerat Kaur

As per 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, the year 2016 recorded 600,000 children dying due to air pollution globally. Children are perhaps the most vulnerable segment when exposed to harmful toxins in the air. Their lungs are comparitively underdeveloped as compared to adults, this, coupled with weak immunity makes them most susceptible to contracting infection owing to the rise in AQI levels. Statistics show that around 93% of the children under 15 years of age i.e. roughly 1.8 billion children worldwide are exposed to PM2.5 levels above those that are recommended by the WHO. This percentage also includes around 630 million children under below 5 years of age.

These numbers are particularly relevant for low to middle income countries where, due to developing infrastructure and limited amenities, almost double the percentage of children suffer when compared to children living in high-income countries.

Impact on pregnant women

Research has discovered signs of particulate matter in the placenta of pregnant women, highlighting the effect air pollution can have on unborn babies. Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are also more prone to premature births and delivering underweight babies. This is alarming, as, besides concerns around premature and underdeveloped baies, the cognitive and neuro-developmental abilities may be compromised due to continued exposure to this particulate matter.

Children under the age of 10 years

Children are more prone to the harmful effects of air pollution due to a number of reasons. Their weak immunity and developing lung function hampers their ability to fight against the pollutants entering their body making them fall sick more often. Children have a faster breathing pattern when compared to adults, resulting in absorption of more pollutants at a faster rate. Their growing bodies are also closer to the ground, where pollutants peak concentration levels. Their exposure to outdoor air almost 300 days a year along with physical activity in the form of games and activities allow the toxins to enter their bodies more frequently.

These factors are all contributors to damaging lung functioning and causing diseases like asthma, childhood cancer, cardiovascular diseases later in life, impaired motor & mental development and so on.

Public Perception and Action

According to the recent Envecologic public perception study conducted on the ‘State Of Delhi’s Air’, more than half the respondents believe that indoor pollution is not as bad as outdoor pollution when in reality it could be upto 10 times worse. Restricting outdoor activity for these children is not the answer, as research shows that more than 1 billion children across the world suffer from indoor/household air pollution caused by cooking fuel, heating, lighting, dust particles, and technology emissions. The effectiveness of masks, purifiers and other preventive measures is still up for debate, but disrupting their daily school, work, play activities could hamper their future in the long run.

The capital city of New Delhi has been the latest casualty in the air pollution crisis. With the city undergoing unprecedented levels of air pollution, the masses suffer. In the midst of this, the plight of the children living here is unimaginable as they stand vulnerable and helpless in the face of this catastrophe. Thus, the only way is to come up with a more permanent solution to the problem –  one that does not compromise the future of these children.

Seerat is an Associate with Envecologic. She holds MS in Economics from University of Warwick, UK.