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City Children Face Grave Dangers From Air Pollution

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Tehrani children protesting air pollution

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, September 26, 1999 (IPS) - A leading Mexican environmentalist is urging authorities in the world's largest cities to take urgent action to  protect millions of children exposed to life-threatening air pollution.

New and mounting evidence of the peculiar threats to  children should prompt those in power to develop a political strategy to tackle  the things that contribute to this city`s toxic level, says Professor Jose  Luis  Lezama, a senior researcher in environmental policy at the College of  Mexico.

Here, as in many other mega-cities, large numbers of  children fall  ill as a direct consequence of the pollutants emitted by lead levels  of the vehicles that ply through the city. Mexico is the most contaminated city, even worse than  Santiago and Sao Paolo, he adds. There are periods here when children are kept indoors in  their schools when the pollution level soars to a dangerous level.

Lezama's comments came in response to the release here Thursday of a new report by the  Washington-based World sources Institute (WRI).

Titled Urban Air Pollution Risks to Children: A Global Environmental Health Indicator, the Report states that Millions of children  growing  up in the world`s largest  cities, particularly those living in developing  countries, are  increasingly under severe threats of exposure to preventable life-threatening  air pollution.

Children living in such cities end up inhaling polluted air that  is ôtwo  to eight times above the maximum World Health Organization (WHO)  exposure guidelines, it states.

More than 80 percent of all deaths in developing  countries attributable to air  pollution-induced lung infections occur among children under five  years of age.

The findings in this report have been based on an Environmental  Health Indicator (EHI), which, the authors say, was helpful to rank the  18 mega-cities in the developing world.

Information, though, was gathered from 207 cities and metropolitan regions in 53 countries, where records had been maintained between 1993 and 1995  to  measure the annual levels of three air pollutants physical, chemical and  biological.

Two of the authors Dr Devra Davis and Dr Paulo Saldiva say the indicator reflected a need to concentrate on standardising monitoring and  data collection methods since regional and international efforts to  control  air pollution are of increasing importance as pollution does not  discriminate between nations.

Among the report's findings were the following:

Early this month, the World Bank, too, made note of this dangerous feature  in its World Development Report 1999/2000, singling out mega- cities  such as Delhi and Bangkok.

The Bank said that in Delhi, the incidence of bronchial asthma in  the 5-6 age group is 10-12 percent, and air pollution is one of the major causes have been tried.