Two new reports from the World Health Organization highlight the continuing global impact of inadequate sanitation and high levels of air pollution to the world’s children.

Every year, says the WHO, indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years old, accounting for more than 25% of childhood deaths.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

How can we make all places safe for children?

The WHO lists many things that governments can do, including reducing air pollution inside and outside households, improving safe water and sanitation and improving hygiene (including in health facilities where women give birth), protecting pregnant women from second-hand tobacco smoke, and building safer environments, to prevent children’s deaths and diseases. EPHC notes that business and civil society can also play a key role in all of these examples.

The WHO continues with examples of opportunities for improvement:

Housing: Ensure clean fuel for heating and cooking, no mould or pests, and remove unsafe building materials and lead paint.
Schools: Provide safe sanitation and hygiene, free of noise, pollution, and promote good nutrition.
Health facilities: Ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and reliable electricity.
Urban planning: Create more green spaces, safe walking and cycling paths.
Transport: Reduce emissions and increase public transport.
Agriculture: Reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and no child labour.
Industry: Manage hazardous waste and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
Health sector: Monitor health outcomes and educate about environmental health effects and prevention.
Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) countries are working on a set of targets to guide interventions for children’s environmental health, as well as to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five by 2030. In addition to SDG 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, other SDGs work to improve water, sanitation and hygiene, transition to clean energy to reduce air pollution, and reverse climate change – all of which will have an impact on children’s health.

For more details from the WHO reports, continue reading here.