Polluted air is poisoning children and ruining their lives

✍️By Special Correspondent

Doctors, Child Rights activists came together at a webinar organised by SwitchON Foundation, on the impact of air pollution on children focusing on West Bengal. The webinar highlighted the damage caused to children’s health in lieu of rising air pollution in Bengal and its neighboring state Jharkhand. A high level panel discussion was also organized as a part of the virtual event.

Over the years experts have been saying that children are more vulnerable to pollution because their lungs are underdeveloped and their immune systems are weaker. Experts say children are more vulnerable to pollution because their lungs are underdeveloped and their immune systems are weaker. And yet, nine out of 10 children around the world are breathing in toxins that exceed safe levels. Over the years, the situation has become critical, even global bodies like UNICEF have predicted that air pollution will become the leading cause of child mortality by 2050.

The virtual event was attended by distinguished experts and doctors from Kolkata, who were highlighting the need for an immediate public intervention on the issue. Campaigners and subject experts from different organizations working on the issue of Child Rights and Air Pollution also attended the event.

“All children should have the right to breathe clean air. Despite this an entire generation of children are in jeopardy today, this is unforgivable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and enjoy the natural world as generations before have” said Vinay Jaju,

Delivering a special address during the event Dr Manas Ranjan Ray, Former Assistant Director ,Chittaranjan Cancer Research Institute, Kolkata “Air pollution affects everyone , but most susceptible are the children. It is ..unlikely that the deficits in lung function at the age of 17 years that have been found in a large number of schoolchildren will be reversed as they complete the transition into adulthood”

Kolkata based, Dr Arup Haldar, a senior pulmonologist from the Woodlands Superspeciality Hospital Kolkata attending the webinar said, “The fine and ultrafine particulate matters may directly traverse blood vessels and affect the heart and become a systemic inflammation. It can cause diabetes, dementia and even hampers the neurological development in children. The recent State of Global Air (SOGA) report linked air pollution to even as a cause of neonatal mortality (as Preterm birth and low birth weight babies).”

The webinar was registered and viewed by a large number of people on social media, including young students, parents, teachers, activists and journalists. Some of the top schools and colleges from West Bengal attending the webinar were; Asutosh College, Calcutta University, Rabindra Bharati University, Sri Sri Academy , Calcutta Boys School etc.

Children today are at a greater risk than adults from the many adverse health effects of air pollution because their lungs, organs and brains are still maturing. Mr. Rajiv Khurana, joining the event from The Lung Care Foundation has said, “Before we ask children of today about what their future plans would be, it is our primary responsibility to secure their future by providing them clean air and a healthy environment”

Mr. Khurana further added “It is time to fight for them and also fight along with them to secure their right to healthy clean air. Every micro action can collectively create the macro impact. Switch off apathy. Switch on momentum”

SwitchON Foundation also revealed a study at the webinar, based on a public perception study on the impact of air pollution on children. The idea was to get a better understanding about the awareness and sensitivity of people regarding air pollution and prevalence and severity of diseases amongst children caused by Air Pollution in West Bengal.

The study found that a vast majority of those who respondents think about 90 percent feels – Children are being more vulnerable due to air pollution. While at the same time about the same majority were not happy with the current air quality, while about 85 percent of those directly acknowledged that air pollution has been affecting them and their families.

A revealing part of the study was the fact that about 65 percent of those who responded felt that there were at least 1 family member or more below 18 years of age, who are suffering from respiratory ailments. While 68 percent of the people who responded know someone outside their family below the age of 18 suffering from respiratory issue

As per the survey, 54 percent of the people who reported respiratory ailments below the age of 18 were directly related with asthma. 10 percent with bronchitis, 6 percent with COPD, 2 percent with lung cancer and 5 percent with emphysema.

The study concluded that although not many people were clinically diagnosed with respiratory ailments, but from those who responded 42 percent showed symptoms of breathlessness, 22 percent felt they may have asthma, 27 percent feeling worried about their living condition and depressed, 46 percent have skin rashes and allergies, while 53 percent have irritation in their eyes, nose and throat. The conclusion drawn from the study has accurately termed air pollution as a silent killer because while people feel its effect, they are unable to address the harm until it is too late.

The WHO had earlier categorically said that air pollution has a “vast and terrible impact on child health and survival”. It had later warned that exposure to air pollution is an “overlooked health emergency for children around the world”. This is even more critical for India, where as per the state of global air report 2020 – every three minutes a child dies in India because of inhaling toxic pollutants in the air.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Moumita Saha from Save the Children organisation said – “Air pollution is one of the most visible manifestations of how the climate crisis is deepening to the extent of choking humanity” Adding to this Mr. Bablu Sarkar from Caritas India has said “Air Pollution has been turning childhood of many children into a curse.”

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