18 Sep 2017 Story Chemicals & waste

Inheriting a sustainable world?

Atlas on Children's Health and the Environment

The continuing and emerging challenges to children’s environmental health are outlined in the report titled “Inheriting the world: The atlas of children’s health and the environment” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the report, in 2015, 26% of the 5.9 million child deaths (>5 years) could have been prevented through addressing environmental risks – “a shocking missed opportunity” (WHO).

The publication takes stock on work regarding both traditional and emerging environmental hazards to children’s health.

  • Traditional hazards include air pollution, water, sanitation and vector-borne diseases
  • Emerging hazards include chemicals, electronic waste and climate change

Children are exposed to a variety of hazards from the environments in which they live, learn, work and play. Of particular concern are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been linked to negative liver, thyroid and neurodevelopmental effects.

The publication highlights that children are especially vulnerable to chemical exposure because of their developing systems and behaviours. Environmental exposures in early life can have immediate effects or build over time increasing disease risk later in life. Exposure can start early – in the womb - and can have effects throughout life. 

Time to Act – Reducing Environmental Risks to Improve Child Health 

The beginning of 2016 marked the start of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda for 2030, 17 standards that provide a broad framework for economic, social and environmental development. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a great global opportunity for putting renewed focus on children’s environmental health.

“We can seize this chance to increase our efforts in the battles against air pollution and water issues, as well as take a precautionary approach to protecting children from the effects of chemicals, building healthy surroundings and curbing climate change” (WHO).

Some notable progress has been made to successfully avoid the effects of environmental hazards on children’s health, for example the elimination of lead in petrol,  phasing out lead in  paint in many countries, the adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, as well as major advances in water and sanitation access. However, still, there is much ground to cover.

Source: Inheriting a sustainable world? Atlas on children’s health and the environment. World Health Organization, 2017. Click here to access the full publication.

Photo by: Jaleesa Greening