by Environment Daily
One-third of all child deaths in Europe are caused
by the environment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) claimed
on Friday. The statement represents a final bid to grab media
attention before ministerial talks on environment and health in
Budapest this week, the centrepiece of which will be adoption
of a children's health and environment action plan for Europe
According to the new research, between 1.8% and
6.4% of all deaths among European children up to 4 is caused by
outdoor air pollution by fine particulates. Some 4.6% of deaths
in the same group is attributed to indoor air pollution by smoke
from solid fuel burning. A further 5.3% of deaths in children
up to 14 is attributed to dirty water or sanitation.
Using a parallel measure of disability-adjusted
life years (dalys), the report estimates lower relative importance
for indoor air pollution and dirty water and sanitation at 3.1%
and 3.5% of all childhood deaths respectively. However, it attributes
1.4% of all dalys in the 0-4 age group to poisoning by the heavy
Combined, these environmental risk factors add
up to between 12% and 16% of all child deaths. The researchers
arrive at their overall estimate of 34% of deaths "due to
environment" by including injuries of all kinds, ranging
from traffic accidents to falls and drowning, suicide to violence.
All such injuries are estimated to be responsible for 22.6% of
deaths in children up to 19, and 19% of dalys.
"This is the biggest study ever done on the
link between child health and the environment," a WHO spokesperson
told Environment Daily. In a statement, the UN agency described
the results as "devastating" and "ominous".
It is unclear whether there is general agreement
that estimates of "environmental" health risks should
properly include injuries, as the WHO study does. The EU environment
and health strategy Scale launched last year does not. In proposals
for a Scale action plan earlier this month, the Commission referred
to the WHO study as showing that one-sixth rather than one-third
of child deaths are due to environmental factors (ED 10/06/04).
The WHO report warns Europe's ministers that child-specific
legislation is needed if children are to be protected from environmental
risks. It claims the fact that "children are not just 'little
adults'" has previously been ignored by policy makers..
However, the study also stresses the difficulty of establishing
exact figures for environment-linked child deaths. Challenges
faced include differing absolute numbers of children in the regions
surveyed, and a reliance on available data.