Almost half of the children in New Delhi are suffering irreversible lung damage because of the toxic levels of air pollution in the city. A number of factors make children particularly vulnerable to air pollution. They have lower immunity than adults and their respirtory tracts are easier for pollutnants to penetrate. Also particulate matter is concentrated at lower levels above the ground, so young children in particular are breathing in the worst air.
The chronic levels of air pollution derive substantially from the traffic that chokes the streets day and night. Children go to school at the peak of the emissions in the rush hour, exposing them to the most intense pollution of the day. Also many schools are located alongside major roads – good for access but bad for exposure to air pollution, not to mention road safety.
If childen were hit on this scale by a natural disaster the attention of the world would be focused on the city. The less dramatic but still insidious impacts of air pollution, and the potential to redress the problem through urban planning, pass largely unremarked, except by the experts.
The World Health Organisation have called for greater awareness of health risks caused by air pollution, implementation of effective air pollution mitigation policies; and close monitoring of the situation in cities worldwide.
“Too many urban centres today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Children and Women’s Health. “Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents – in particular children and the elderly.”