Unhealthy environment blamed for 1.7 million child deaths a year

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A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children. Photo: WHO/D. Licona (26835)

Dirty air and water are behind more than one in four deaths among children under five years old, UN health experts said on Monday.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), many of the most common causes of death – such as diarrhoea and pneumonia – are preventable.

Some 200,000 malaria-related deaths could also be avoided – simply by covering drinking water storage or taking steps to reduce breeding sites, the WHO says.

Dianne Penn has more.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.7 million children under five-years-old die every year from the unhealthy environments where they live.

That means air pollution, unsafe water, second-hand smoke and lack of sanitation.

In a statement, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan explained that "a polluted environment is a deadly on," particularly for children.

That's because their developing immune systems and smaller airways make them especially vulnerable.

The top cause of death in children under five linked to the environment is respiratory infections.

These kill 570,000 children alone, and are linked to indoor and outdoor pollution and second-hand smoke.

Exposure to harmful substances can start before birth, the WHO says in its first report on the issue.

Unhealthy environments can also increase the risk of being born premature, WHO adds.

It can also raise the chances of contracting pneumonia, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

To counter this, the UN agency is calling for investment that benefits children, and adults too.

Among its proposals, WHO wants to see clean fuel for heating and cooking in the home, safe sanitation in schools and reliable electricity in hospitals.

The health benefits will be "massive," WHO says.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 1'24"

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