About 1.7 million young children were cut short each year by pollution and other environmental dangers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday in Geneva.
The deaths accounted for more than a quarter of all instances of child mortality for those aged younger than five, the UN health agency said in a report on the environmental effects on child health.
Although the figure had declined, from 37 per cent to 26 per cent of all such deaths between 2002 and 2012, WHO said the rate was still too high, and called for investment to reduce the biggest dangers.
The biggest killer for children is air pollution from transport, industry and tobacco smoke as well as from unclean fuels used in stoves in family homes.
Some 570,000 small children die from respiratory infections that are linked to dirty air, according to the WHO report, which is based on 2012 figures, and lack of clean water and sanitation kills 361,000 each year.
“A polluted environment is a deadly one particularly for young children,’’ WHO Director- General Margaret Chan said.
“Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.’’
Children in developing countries are at the highest risk of dying from environmental causes.
Death rates are the highest across central, western and south-western Africa as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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