Over five million children per year die from illnesses and other conditions caused by the environments in which they live, learn and play.
Around two million children under five die every year from acute respiratory infections, the largest killer of young children. These infections are aggravated by environmental hazards such as indoor air pollution.
The second most common cause of child deaths is diarrhoea, estimated to be responsible for 12 % of the child deaths under five years of age in developing countries - and a total of 1.3 million deaths each year. Diarrhoea may result from a variety of different causes. It is frequently a result of the child consuming pathogens or toxins from dirty hands or through contaminated water or food.
The most common, and most serious vector borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in water close to, or within, the home.
About 50,000 children, aged 0-14 years old, die every year as a result of unintentional poisoning.
In 2001, an estimated 685,000 children under the age of 15 were killed by unintentional injuries including those resulting from road traffic accidents, falls, burns and cases of drownings. Worldwide approximately 20% of deaths due to such injuries occur in children under 15 years old and they are among the ten leading causes of death for this age group.
The Healthy Environments for Children Alliance (HECA) promotes a number of simple, low-cost, effective and sustainable measures to combat the environmental risks to our children. While a fuller listing of what is possible is available on the HECA website – www.who.int/heca/en – below is a sample of simple measures which can be taken at home or in schools.
Household water security
Safe water storage at home – and treatment of water in the home when its quality is in doubt - reduces water contamination and leads to proven health benefits.
Hygiene and sanitation
Washing hands with soap before food preparation, before meals and after defecating significantly reduces the risk of diarrhoeal disease.
Follow the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food to reduce the risk of foodborne disease: keep clean; separate raw and cooked; cook thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials.
Good ventilation in the home, clean fuels and improved cooking stoves decrease indoor air pollution and the exacerbation and development of acute respiratory infections.
As children usually go to bed earlier than adults at the time mosquitoes become active, the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and the screening of windows, doors and eaves provide a very effective means of protecting them against malaria.
Ensure safe storage, packaging, use and clear labelling of cleaners, fuels, solvents, pesticides and other chemicals used at home and in schools.
Advocate for safer roads and organized traffic