UNITED NATIONS, Nov 11 (APP): In the wake of reports about  smog over New Delhi, Lahore and several other cities around the  world, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called  on all countries to pay attention to air pollution and take  decisive actions to tackle the problem.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), there  is a close, quantitative relationship between exposure  to high concentrations of small particulates (PM10 and PM2.5)  and increased mortality or morbidity, both daily and over time. This  type of pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations  and no threshold has been identified below which no damage to  health is observed.

On the air pollution in Delhi, UNICEF said an  estimated 4.41 million children in the city missed three days  of school, earlier this week, following a decision to close  its 5,798 schools to minimize the risk for children to be exposed  to the polluted air.

It further said this is not just a challenge in  Indian capital, numerous other cities in the country, such as  Varanasi and Lucknow, as well as elsewhere in the world such  as London, Beijing, Mexico City, Los Angeles and Manila  have exceeded international guidelines – in some cases  by considerable margin.

Recent analysis by the agency has shown that, globally,  300 million children live in areas with the most toxic  levels of outdoor air pollution – exceeding six times international guidelines.

Highlighting that air pollution is a major contributing factor  to some of the most deadly diseases children face, such as  pneumonia, UNICEF cautioned that the pollution also affects  their overall health. Almost a million children under the age of  five die from pneumonia per year – and about half of those  cases are directly linked with air pollution.

“Studies show it is linked with and can exacerbate  asthma, bronchitis, airway inflammation, coughing and  wheezing. Illness associated with air pollution can  affect children’s ability to go to school,” the agency
said, adding “New research even points to  the effects it can have on cognitive development amongst  very young children.” Those without access to medical treatment,  who are often the poorest, and those who have  pre-existing respiratory conditions, are most at risk.

Further in its release today, UNICEF said stronger measures  to cut back on the sources of air pollution.

“Air pollution moves across borders, both national ones as  well as subnational ones, and so we will need coherent  government policies to address these transboundary risks,” it noted.

Also, providing children with access to good quality healthcare  is a major part of protecting them from air pollution, and  treatment and prevention programmes for pneumonia, as well  as other respiratory conditions, can significantly reduce the chance  a child falls sick or dies.

UNICEF also called for better monitoring of air pollution at
a global scale.

When a child, a mother, a father or caregiver know how bad the
air is on a real-time basis, they can begin to take actions
to reduce exposure,” it stressed and urging pregnant mothers,
and others who are at especially high risk to do their best to
avoid areas where air pollution is at its highest.

Public knowledge on air pollution is a key first step to tackling
it – it is key to supporting government policies to reduce it, the agency stressed. Reminding that this week is also the first week of twenty-second Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), popularly known as COP 22, UNICEF said: “Actions that reduce air pollution can not only improve children’s health, but can also go a long way  to also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“As such, the argument for reducing air pollution could not be clearer.
And because we can – we must,” underscored the agency.