According To A UNICEF Report, Almost Two Billion Children In North India Are Breathing Toxic Air

31 October 2016

published by www.indiatimes.com


India—   As India wakes up on Monday to smoke-filled skies from a weekend of festival fireworks, New Delhi's worst season for air pollution begins, with dire consequences.

A new report from UNICEF says most of the 2 billion children in the world who are breathing toxic air live in north India and neighbouring countries, risking serious health effects, including damage to their lungs, brains and other organs. Of that global total, 300 million kids are exposed to pollution levels more than six times higher that standards set by the World Health Organization, including 220 million in South Asia.

For Delhi, the alarming numbers are hardly a surprise. New Delhi's air pollution, among the world's worst, spikes every winter because of the season's weak winds and countless garbage fires set alight to help people stay warm.

Even days before Diwali, recorded levels of tiny, lung-clogging particulate matter known as PM 2.5 were considered dangerous. On Friday, PM 2.5 levels were well above 300 micrograms per cubic meter, more than 30 times higher than the WHO recommendation of no more than 10 mcg per cubic meter.

Also Read: Air Pollution Cost India 8.5% Of Its Economy In 2013, Says World Bank

Children face much higher health risks from air pollution than adults. Children breathe twice as quickly, taking in more air in relation to their body weight, while their brains and immune systems are still developing and vulnerable.

"The impact is commensurately shocking," with 600,000 children younger than 5 across the world dying every year from air pollution-related disease, UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said in the report released on Monday. Millions more suffer from respiratory diseases that diminish their resilience and affect their physical and cognitive development.

Of the 2 billion children worldwide breathing unhealthy air, the report puts 620 million of them in South Asia, mostly northern India.

Another 520 million children are breathing toxic air in Africa, and 450 million in East Asia, mainly China, according to the report, which combined satellite images of pollution and ground data with demographic patterns to determine which populations fell into the highest risk areas.

Since being identified as one of the world's most polluted cities in recent years, New Delhi has tried to clean its air. It has barred cargo trucks from city streets, required drivers to buy newer cars that meet higher emissions standards and carried out several weeks of experimental traffic control, limiting the number of cars on the road. But other pollution sources including construction dust and cooking fires fueled by wood or kerosene continue unabated.

Last week, the city launched a smartphone application called "Change the Air" inviting residents to send photos and complaints about illegal pollution sources, from the burning of leaves and garbage in public parks to construction crews working without dust control measures.

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba and Nkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

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