Oslo: The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines air pollution as, “a major environmental health problem affecting everyone. It occurs when the environment is contaminated by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.”
The people of India just bid farewell to Diwali season and as expected, the pollution levels across the country, especially in the capital city of Delhi, have crossed the 'hazardous' mark.
Last month, the WHO also declared that India accounts for 75% of air pollution casualties. But, talking about the damage caused by rising levels of pollution across the world, especially South Asia, the UN children's agency UNICEF has said that almost one in seven children worldwide live in areas with high levels of outdoor air pollution, mostly in South Asia and their growing bodies are most vulnerable to damage.
To address the issue, UNICEF has called upon approximately 200 governments for a meeting in Morocco, which will take place from November 7-18 and will also discuss global warming to restrict use of fossil fuels to give twin benefits of improved health and slower climate change.
About 300 million children, or almost one in seven worldwide, lived in areas where outdoor pollution was highest, defined by UNICEF as at least six times international guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO), it said.
With the help of satellite imagery developed by NASA, the UN body identified that out of the 300 million children, 220 million lived in South Asia.
UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said air pollution was a "major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year", causing illnesses such as pneumonia.
"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," he said in a statement.
"Air pollution affects poor children the most," Nicholas Rees, a UNICEF specialist on climate and economic analysis who wrote the report, told Reuters.
Worldwide, the WHO estimates that outdoor air pollution killed 3.7 million people in 2012, including 127,000 children aged under five. Factories, power plants and vehicles using fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste were among sources.
(With Agency inputs)