UNICEF report shows 300 million children breathing toxic air; clean cooking can help
A new report released this week from UNICEF highlights the growing threat of air pollution to children’s health. The report showed that air pollution is responsible for 600,000 child deaths annually, with over 500,000 of these deaths linked to household (or indoor) air pollution, a toxic brew of harmful emissions commonly caused by use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking. The report also showed that one in seven of the world’s children (300 million) live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines.
To address this public health crisis, UNICEF recommends world leaders take urgent steps to protect children from air pollution, including minimizing children’s exposure by increasing the use of cleaner cookstoves, which can significantly improve air quality both indoors and out.
The Alliance is pleased UNICEF has brought attention to this urgent issue and has placed particular emphasis on clean cooking as an effective way to reduce air pollution. Other recent studies support UNICEF’s findings, showing that household air pollution is a major contributor to ambient air pollution in developing countries – up to one third in India and China, for example. The impacts on children’s health associated with outdoor air pollution cannot be adequately addressed without taking clean cooking solutions into account.
Exposure to air pollution impacts both birth weight and preterm birth, in addition to other birth outcomes, which predispose children to compromised lung function and developing respiratory diseases later in life. In recent years, UNICEF has made great inroads into ‘mainstreaming’ clean cooking as a preventive strategy for child pneumonia, particularly with its Global Diarrhea Pneumonia Working Group, integration of clean cooking as a major preventive strategy within the Every Breath Counts Coalition, and in India, where work is underway to consider how to integrate clean cooking into India’s Integrated Strategy for Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea.
We encourage UNICEF to continue its work on household air pollution and to more actively include clean cooking as a strategy for improving birth outcomes. Following the report’s recommendation to increase monitoring efforts, the Alliance also encourages UNICEF to help better monitor household energy trends (e.g. in MICS) to better track progress in preventing child deaths from household air pollution.
Working together to reduce air pollution by increasing the use of clean cookstoves and fuels, we can help ensure cooking no longer kills.