Over 600 million children in South Asia suffer from the dire consequences of polluted and toxic air which is putting them at heath and neurological risk.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore disclosed it on Thursday through a statement issued on toxic air in South Asia.
“Around 620 million children in the region breathe polluted, toxic air. Because they have smaller lungs, breathe twice as fast as adults, and lack the immunities that come with age, children endure its damaging health and neurological effects the most,” she said.
Ms Fore, who said saw how children suffer from air pollution first-hand during her recent visit, also urged for immediate actions to clean the air in the region.
“The air quality was at a crisis level. You could smell the toxic fog even from behind an air filtration mask," said Henrietta.
The UNICEF high official also said that as winter is approaching, the situation is set to become even worse.
“Air pollution is associated with one of the biggest killers of children – pneumonia, and linked to asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections,” she said adding that polluted air damages brain tissue and undermines cognitive development in babies and young children.
“The toxicity to children's brain development and health is also toxic to society, which no government can afford to ignore. The ripple effects extend far and wide,” she also said.
Regarding the economic effect of air pollution, Henrietta said, “Health expenses may increase if children need care and treatment. Parents may need to stay home too, in order to care for their children. Potential income is lost, and quality of life is reduced. The effects of air pollution on children can be felt well into adulthood."
The UN organisation official urged governments in the region and around the world to take urgent steps to reduce air pollution by investing in cleaner, renewable sources of energy to replace fossil fuel combustion.
She also asked the governments and concerned authorities to provide affordable access to clean public transport, increase green spaces in urban areas, change agricultural practices and provide better waste management options.
“Children have a right to live in a clean environment and to breathe clean air. We must act now”.