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CITY CHILDREN
EXPOSED TO LIFE-THREATENING
AIR POLLUTION

Millions of children growing up in the world's largest cities, particularly those living in developing countries, are increasingly under severe daily threats of exposure to preventable life-threatening air pollution. Children living in these mega-cities regularly experience levels of air pollution two to eight times above the maximum World Health Organization (WHO) exposure guidelines. Indeed, more than 80 percent of all deaths in developing countries attributable to air pollution-induced lung infections occur among children under 5 years of age.

These are among the findings detailed in a new report, . The report was released by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, DC-based international research organization focusing on environmental and sustainability issues.

The report, co-authored by Dr. Devra L. Davis, director of WRI's Health, Environment and Development Program, and Dr. Paulo H.N. Saldiva, Director of the Laboratory of Experimental Air Pollution and Professor of Pathology at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, along with an international team of researchers and contributing authors, describes how the effects of gross air pollution levels that greatly exceed recommended limits from WHO especially plague the developing world's 18 mega-cities (cities with populations greater than 9 million).

In response to these trends, the co-authors, in an attempt to identify the regions of the world at greatest risk, have developed an Environmental Health Indicator (EHI), to rank countries and cities with the most children threatened by degraded air.

"As air quality is both a local and global issue, the need for increased coordination and transfer of knowledge remains crucial," Drs. Davis and Saldiva write. "Given the projected growth of cities and the relatively young average age of their populations, regional and international efforts to control air pollution are of increasing importance as pollution does not discriminate between nations. Efforts need to concentrate on standardizing monitoring and data collection methods and on information sharing."

Highlights of the EHI, and the overall report analysis, include:

The EHI data documents how with as many as 85 percent of all children under the age of 15 living in developing countries, and roughly half of those children living in cities, urgent global air pollution interventions for the developing world are needed.

Similarly, the co-authors emphasize that such interventions are also needed for the developed world. Developed countries, they note, are still facing severe problems, citing that WHO has determined that fine particulate pollution is responsible for 7 to 10 percent of all respiratory infections in European children, with the number rising to 21 percent in the most polluted cities.

Developing the Environmental Health Indicator

Over the past decade, the World Resources Institute has pioneered a number of systems for assessing threats to both coastal and urban environments. Urban Air Pollution Risks to Children builds on that work by assembling and displaying information from 1993-1995 on the risks of air pollution to children as an environmental health indicator. EHI's provide tools for policy-makers that can be applied for gauging progress in environmental health, setting cross-sectoral priorities, and establishing goals for research and regulatory action.

Exposure-based indicators estimate the percentage of the population potentially or actually exposed to physical, chemical, or biological pollutants, or other conditions known or suspected to affect health. In developing the exposure-based indicators presented in Urban Air Pollution Risks to Children, air pollution concentration data were collected from 207 cities and metropolitan regions in 53 countries that reported average yearly levels of the three air pollutants for at least one year between 1993 and 1995. In order to provide a systematic way of assessing the risks of air pollution for children throughout the world in major urban areas, the report combines information from 1993-1995 on yearly average levels of three commonly measured pollutants -- Total Suspended Particulates (TSP), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

The co-authors explain that because indicators attempt to estimate the state of risk, the availability and accuracy of the input data are important factors. Global indicators are even more subject to the difficulties in collating data as often the data sets vary between sources, the co-authors write. Not only that, but cross-country comparisons are further hampered by the lack of data for certain countries. As environmental and health issues transcend boundaries, comprehensive surveys of different regions become more important in instigating needed policies for common problems.

Opportunities Through Global Initiatives

Given the projected growth of cities, the co-authors call for energy-efficiency and pollution reduction measures between governments, international organizations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. They describe examples of collaborative efforts already underway:

The co-authors conclude by writing that, "It is now widely understood that the same activities that contribute to local and regional air pollution also threaten our climate and weather by producing persistent greenhouse gases." As such, they recommend: "In this regard, adopting policies to mitigate the buildup of these gases can also reduce health risks from pollution. Near term efforts to promote energy efficiency, especially in rapidly growing transport and energy sectors, will have collateral benefits to protecting the health of millions of children, and will reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the long-term."

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Written by: The World Resources Institute


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