Bangkok, 31 January 2019: UNICEF shares the concerns of the general public in Thailand about the increase in the levels of the small particles from air pollution, or PM2.5, and its impact on the health and wellbeing of citizens, especially children.
Exposure to high pollution levels affects children in irreversible ways. Children breathe faster than adults, which means that they are breathing in more polluted air than grownups. The younger they are, the more breaths per minute they take. Additionally, their organs are still in a developing stage, making them more vulnerable to immediate and life-long negative impacts.
Once the particulate matter enters a child’s developing brain, especially while in their mother’s womb and in the early years of life, it damages brain cells, affecting their cognitive and intellectual development with long term implications on their future learning, welfare and earning ability.
Moreover, air pollution puts vulnerable children from poor families most at risk. While everyone breathes the same air, children from impoverished families are more at risk as they may not have access to protective measures such as air purifiers at home or N-95 masks, and they may have to spend more time outdoors.
There are immediate measures, as recommended by the World Health Organization, that can be taken to reduce the exposure of children and adults to the risks of air pollution such as staying indoors when air pollution levels are high and creating a clean room for sleeping particularly for young children or elderly persons; one with few windows and doors. Appropriately fitting masks (rated N-95) may help in special circumstances when it is necessary to spend long periods of time outside.
While these actions would likely provide immediate, short term relief to some of the most vulnerable children, reducing air pollution levels is the only long-term sustainable solution to protect children’s health.
UNICEF acknowledges the Royal Government of Thailand’s efforts to find solutions to address some of the immediate concerns. The current situation is an important reminder that long term and decisive actions are needed to curb the root causes, including emission controls, investing in renewable energy and mass public transportation, and sound management of chemicals and agricultural waste.
Only with such long-term measures will children be able to grow up and develop in a healthy environment and enjoy their schooling in an unimpeded manner. The success in tackling the air pollution crisis will require all sectors of the Government to come together and take actions in a concerted manner under the goal of providing a safe environment for our young generation.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.