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Pollution kills 1.7m children each year

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GENEVA: More than one in four deaths in children under five are linked to polluted environments, according to two new World Health Organisation (WHO) reports published on Monday.

Each year, environmental risks such as indoor and outdoor pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water and poor sanitation kill around 1.7 million children between the ages of one month and five years, the reports found.

Harmful exposure can start in the mother's womb, increasing the risk of premature birth, which can lead to lifelong health problems.

When children are exposed to air pollutants, they also can face a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory and heart diseases, stroke and cancer.

The findings were in line with a WHO study published last year showing that about a quarter of all deaths worldwide, across all age groups, were due to environmental factors such as air, water and soil pollution, as well as unsafe roads and workplace stress.

But the new reports highlight the particular dangers faced by the youngest in society.

"A polluted environment is a deadly one, particularly for young children," WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.

"Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water," she said.

An estimated 570,000 children under five die each year from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, which are caused by air pollution and second-hand smoke.

And 361,000 others are killed by diarrhoea resulting from poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, the agency said.- AFP