Photo: © UNICEF/Sokol

Another day, another somber report. The latest — released this morning by UNICEF — all but concludes that we’re failing the world’s children because of our indifference to air pollution.

The numbers are startling. One in seven of the world’s kids (a total of 300 million) are breathing toxic air that is at least six times more polluted than international guidelines recommend. In total, two billion children — many of them in Asia and Africa — live in areas with some air pollution. All that smog is suffocating enough for adults, but even worse for Earth’s youngsters.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs – they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”

A girl cooks lunch at a boarding school in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. Air pollution from burning wood or coal indoors to cook is part or a public health crisis. (Photo: UNICEF/Bindra)

A girl cooks lunch at a boarding school in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. Air pollution from burning wood or coal indoors is making kids sick. (Photo: UNICEF/Bindra)

The report was released a week before the COP 22 climate conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where UNICEF is challenging world leaders to slash air pollution in their respective countries. They’re also calling for common-sense measures, like building factories away from children, more seriously monitoring air quality and offering better pediatric care to kids who do fall ill.

In addition to vehicle emissions, the burning of fossil fuels, dust and smoldering waste, the report also took into consideration indoor air pollution, which is commonly caused by burning wood or coal for cooking or heating, practices more widespread in poor areas. When all is said and done, air pollution (both indoor and outdoor) is directly linked to diseases causing one in ten deaths in children five years or younger. In other words, it is a massive, public-health crisis.

The data speaks loud and clear. Now, it’s up to world leaders to scale back emissions and pollutants in line with their Paris Agreement commitments and beyond, which UNICEF’s Anthony Lake sees as a win-win.

“We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air. Both are central to our future.”

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