YANGON, 3 May 2019 – UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health and Sports and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation convened key representatives from national Government, Yangon and Mandalay Municipalities, several universities, development partners, donors and UN agencies to take stock of the current situation and to chart a way forward with practical solutions to address the increasingly serious health concerns from indoor and outdoor air pollution in Myanmar.
Outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked with pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost 1 in 10 deaths among children under the age of five globally, making air pollution one of the leading concerns for children’s health. In Myanmar, almost all rural households use highly polluting biomass for cooking. Additionally, smog-forming emissions from old vehicles and the burning of waste (household, industrial, agricultural, etc.) deteriorate the air quality in urban areas. Acute respiratory infection is one of the most common childhood illnesses and the third leading cause of death for children under five. The most recent data shows that 62 per cent of child deaths from acute lower respiratory infections in Myanmar can be attributed to indoor air pollution. For children under the age of five, household air pollution is the fourth-highest risk factor behind low birth weight, childhood underweight, and suboptimal breastfeeding.
“With rapid development already occurring, it is important to address air pollution in Myanmar for the health and safety of Myanmar’s people. We have immediate choices before us to develop sustainably and with adequate consideration to our environment,” said Dr. Maung Maung Soe, Mayor of Yangon City, in his opening remarks. “We need effective partnerships—public and private—international, national, municipal, and local—to build on the momentum growing and fill the critical gaps urgently.”
The East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million children under the age of five living in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times the international limits set by the World Health Organization. While some countries are making progress, most face critical challenges in their fight against air pollution due to the lack of availability and use of quality data on air quality and health impacts and cross-sectoral mechanisms to develop and implement clean air solutions that meet the needs of children and most vulnerable populations.
Sharing the experience of actions taken in Mongolia to address the air pollution crisis in that country, UNICEF’s Representative to Mongolia, Alex Heikens, outlined effective areas of effort to reduce the impact of air pollution on children: mitigating the immediate health impacts while reducing specific causes of pollution sustainably; reducing exposure through awareness raising in communities and schools; and strengthening health services.
The potential for youth engagement as agents of change was also highlighted by students who have been involved in the new bottom-up air quality monitoring around Yangon. Connect University students have taken the issue into their own hands by contributing data that has alerted the community on high levels of pollution that people were previously not aware of without the monitoring.
“Protecting children from air pollution also benefits their societies –with reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer cleaner environment for everyone,” said Ms June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar. “Now is the time to come together and scale up our efforts to address the severe and long-lasting impact of air pollution on children.”
UNICEF in Myanmar
UNICEF has been working with the Government and the people of Myanmar since 1950. In partnership with the Government and the civil society, UNICEF’s current focus of work aims at reducing child mortality, improving access and quality of education and protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
For more information about UNICEF and its work in Myanmar: