Pollution-Related Diseases Kill Millions
of Children a Year
Alarming Numbers Part of New UN Report
Released for Child Conference
NEW YORK, NAIROBI, GENEVA, 9 May 2002
-- Every day 5,500 children die from diseases caused
by consuming water and food polluted with bacteria,
according to a new study released by three United Nations
This alarming figure, from Children in the New Millennium:
Environmental Impact on Health, shows that children
the world over are the greatest victims of environmental
degradation, despite the great strides made over the
past ten years in improving both children's well-being
and the environment. The diseases largely influenced
by this degradation, most notably diarrhoea and acute
respiratory infections, are two of the leading causes
of child mortality.
"We have made great strides over the last decade.
Children are healthier today. There is more access to
clean water. But these disturbing figures show we have
barely started to address some of the main problems,"
said Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF.
"Far too many children are dying from diseases
that can be prevented through access to clean water
The 140 page report, jointly produced by UNICEF, the
UN Environment Programme and the World Health Organization
(WHO), is being released as part of the May 8-10 UN
General Assembly Special Session on Children. This landmark
conference, attended by more than 60 heads of state
or government and 170 national delegations, aims to
place children back at the top of the world's agenda
and foster more investment in essential social services
for them. One of its main goals is to increase household
access to hygienic sanitation facilities and affordable
and safe drinking water.
40 Per cent of Environmentally-Related Disease Burden
in Children Under 5
According to WHO, almost one-third of the global disease
burden can be attributed to environmental risk factors.
Over 40 per cent of this burden falls on children under
five years of age, who account for only 10 per cent
of the world's population. A major contributing factor
to these diseases is malnutrition, which affects around
150 million and undermines their immune systems. Malnutrition
and diarrhoea form a vicious cycle. The organisms that
cause diarrhoea harm the walls of a children's guts,
which prevents them digesting and absorbing their food
adequately, causing even greater malnutrition -- and
vulnerability to disease.
"People are most vulnerable in their youngest
years. This means that children must be at the centre
of our response to unhealthy environments." said
WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The report also identifies other major environmental
problems directly affecting children, such as high levels
of toxic chemicals and the degradation and depletion
of natural resources. Lead in the environment -- much
of it from leaded gasoline -- causes permanent neurological
and developmental disorders in children. Millions of
children work in agriculture, putting them at high risk
of pesticide poisoning. Children are also disproportionately
vulnerable to global environmental problems, such as
the impact of climate change, the depletion of the ozone
layer and the loss of the planet's biological diversity.
"I am convinced that we need to elevate children's
environmental health issues on the international agenda,
both through the General Assembly's Special Session
on Children and then the World Summit on Sustainable
Development," said Mr Klaus Töpfer, the Executive
Director of the UN Environment Programme. "We should
recognize that realising children's rights and managing
environmental challenges are mutually reinforcing goals.
We hope that the publication will inspire everyone who
cares about children to take decisive action that will
improve both their health and the environment."
Immediate Action Needed Across the Board
The report warns of low public awareness on children's
special vulnerability to environmental health risks.
Among the recommended actions, the report calls for
increased national investment in early child care, including
focusing on the immediate environments of children,
like homes, schools, and communities. One notable success
in many countries is the transition to unleaded fuel,
which helps eliminate lead from the environment.
Through the report, the three UN agencies hope to raise
the awareness of governments and non-government organizations
on these problems during the UN Special Session itself,
and at August's World Summit on Sustainable Development
in Johannesburg, South Africa.
* * *
Note to broadcasters: An 8 minute video
news release with 22 minute b-roll is available including
interviews with the three UN agency heads. Please contact:
Television Trust for the Environment, (44 20) 7586 5526,
For more information, please contact:
UNEP New York, (212)963-8094, firstname.lastname@example.org,
UNICEF New York, (212)303-7941, email@example.com
View and order the Special Session video b-roll at https://www.unicef.org/broadcast/brolls/specialsession/
A live satellite news feed will be available twice
daily during the Special Session.
Learn more at: