A report by the United Nations Children's agency, Unicef, released on Monday has confirmed the worst fears of people living in polluted areas — that bad air is contributing to death of many children even before they celebrate their fifth birthday.

Outdoor and indoor pollution, the agency noted, are directly linked to respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children's health. "Children are more susceptible than adults to air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable. Young children also breathe faster than adults, and take in more air relative to their body weight," Unicef stated.

According to the UN agency, which used satellite imagery to assess the impact of toxic air on children, around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organisation.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million children. The East Asia and Pacific region has 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits. The findings come a week ahead of the COP 22 in Morocco, where Unicef is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution.

"Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year - and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day," said Unicef executive director Anthony Lake.

In Delhi, experts fear, the health impact of air pollution could be higher due to heavy density of particulate matter. The Capital has been held as one of the world's most polluted cities by global bodies, including WHO.

Source: November 1, 2016, The Times of India