Air pollution emerges as leading risk factor for premature death: UNICEF

By Editor


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says air pollution is the second leading global risk factor for premature death.

UNICEF’s State of Global Air (SoGA) report, released by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), says 8.1 million deaths in 2021 are due to air pollution. The report highlights the severe burden on global healthcare systems, economies, and societies.

The report provides a stark overview of air pollution’s deadly toll, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children under five, who accounted for over 700,000 deaths in 2021.

Pollutants like outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5), primarily from fossil fuel and biomass burning in sectors such as transportation and residential heating, are responsible for more than 90 percent of air pollution-related deaths. These pollutants have been consistently linked to adverse health outcomes worldwide.

Health and Economic Impact

Dr. Elena Craft, President of HEI, emphasized the profound health implications of air pollution, advocating for actionable change to improve air quality and public health. She noted that pollutants like PM2.5 not only harm human health but also contribute to global warming, exacerbating the health impacts of other pollutants such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide.

Dr. Pallavi Pant, HEI’s Head of Global Health, highlighted the disproportionate burden of air pollution on young children, older populations, and residents of low- and middle-income countries. She called for cities and countries to integrate air quality considerations into health policies and noncommunicable disease prevention programs.

Children’s Vulnerability

The report emphasizes the unique vulnerability of children to air pollution, with effects beginning as early as the womb. Exposure to pollutants has been linked to pneumonia, asthma, and a significant proportion of childhood deaths globally.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kitty van der Heijden stressed the urgent need for governments and businesses to take informed, child-focused actions to mitigate air pollution and safeguard children’s health.

Progress and Solutions

Despite the grim statistics, the SoGA report also notes significant progress in raising awareness about the dangers of household air pollution. Since 2000, there has been a 53 percent decrease in the death rate of children under five, attributed to increased access to clean cooking energy. Additionally, regions with the highest pollution levels, including parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, are taking steps to address the issue through the implementation of air pollution monitoring networks and stricter air quality policies.


The SoGA report presents a critical opportunity for global leaders to prioritize air quality in their health and environmental agendas. The findings call for urgent, coordinated efforts to reduce air pollution and protect the health of future generations, particularly the most vulnerable populations.

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