Over 68,000 children under five died due to air pollution in 2021: report

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ISLAMABAD: As many as 68,100 children under the age of five years died in Pakistan in 2021 due to high exposure to air pollution. This figure was revealed in a report titled `Latest State of Global Air 2024`, released in partnership with Unicef.

It stated that air pollution was the second leading risk factor for death among children under five. Moreover Pakistan had experienced increases of more than 10pc in ambient ozone exposures in the last decade, and had the highest average ozone exposure in 2020.

According to a statement, issued by Fair Finance Pakistan, the report estimates Pakistan has the largest burden of disease linked to air pollution after India and China at 256,000 deaths per annum.

Early exposure to high levels of PM 2.5, ozone, nitrogen oxides begins in the womb and increases children`s susceptibility to pre-term births, respiratory infections, stunting, cancers and cognitive development.

According to report, 30pc of all deaths in the Erst month after birth are linked to exposure to air pollution in South Asia, including Pakistan. Long-term exposures to air pollutants can last a lifetime, including impaired lung growth.

Unicef estimates children who live in polluted environments can have their lung capacity reduced by 20pc. It also results in higher risk for chronic diseases later in life which may cause economic losses due to high disease burden and loss of productivity.

In his statement on the platform X, Country Programme Lead, Fair Finance Pakistan, Asim Jaffry said: `Children are far too young and far too burdened by air pollution.

Engaging national financial sector to scale up financing of pollution-free and circular solutions and a systematic shift in our production and consumption models is vital to overcome economic losses and disease burden from air pollution. This requires significant funding directed to innovative business models and activities. Clean air is a share priority and requires multilateral solutions.

Pakistan is already the second most air polluted country in the world with average concentrations of PM 2.5 14 times higher above WHO levels. Poor air quality shortens life expectancy by up to seven years, adversely impacts human health and increases burden of disease.

State of Global Air 2024 reports nitrogen oxide (NO2) as the most common pollutant in urban areas and a marker of trafficrelated air pollution. NO2 is the air pollutant most consistently related to asthma incidence amongst children.

According to the statement, since 2012, countries like Brazil, Chile, Russia, Turl(ey, China, Argentina, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have been in compliance with Euro 5 emissions standards whereas Pakistan is still far behind with Euro 2 emission standards. Lack of policy action has cost newborns and young people their lives to air pollution, it added.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 1st July 2024.
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