UNICEF urges immediate action to lessen air pollution as nearly 17 million babies under the age of one are breathing toxic air, which could damage the development of their brains, according to their report released on Wednesday.
Statistical analysis compiled by UNICEF reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times international limits set by the world Health Organization(WHO), while East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million babies living in polluted areas prone to this damage according to the report.
“Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs, they can permanently damage their developing brains and thus, their future” said Anthony Lake UNICEF Executive Director.
Protecting children from air pollution not only benefits children, it also benefits the society at large which is evident in reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone Lake said.
In Nigeria, the world health report in 2015 has shown that 94% of its population are exposed to air pollution. A level that exceeds WHO guidelines and air pollution damage costs about one percent of Gross National Income.
According to the report, low –income cities tend to have the highest level of air pollution and are more vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution than wealthier cities.
In low- and middle-income countries, 98 percent of cities with at least 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality standard. However, the percentage is only 56 in high-income countries.
Analysis by the WHO showed that four of the 20 cities with the worst air quality recorded in the world were from Nigeria.
Onitsha, Anambra state with over 350,000 inhabitants was ranked as the world’s worst city in terms of air quality while the cities of Kaduna, Aba, and Umuahia were ranked 8th, 9th and 19 respectively.
“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death of family, women and children’s health”, says Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant-Director General.
When dirty air blankets our cities, the most vulnerable urban populations, the youngest, and the poorest are the most impacted.
That same year, the World Bank had said it took a first step in curbing pollution by supporting a rapid bus system in Lagos that is taking cars off the road and helping to make transportation more efficient. However, more must be done to bring about cleaner fuels and safe waste disposal.
“Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health” says Maria Neira who director of public health.
However, reducing the level of air pollution requires action by urban and national governments Neira said.
The WHO has called on policy makers to reduce industrial smoke stack emissions, promote the use of renewable power sources and prioritize rapid transit, walking, and cycling networks in cities most affected by air pollution.