Across Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, increasing air pollution threatens children’s health
By Aanchal Mehta and Lynn Tang
With the recently concluded Asian Games, Indonesian cities have been at the receiving end of much media attention for their poor air quality. More and more farmers are using fire to clear land for commercial agriculture, resulting in elevated air pollution levels for months on end. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that the haze episodes exposed 69 million people in Southeast Asia to unhealthy air quality for nearly two months and caused an additional 100,000 deaths across the region. Indonesia also experiences a high level of air pollution regularly, from sources including motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants, dust, open burning and biomass burning from cooking and heating.
The elderly and children are most vulnerable to the harmful health impacts of air pollution. More than 4,000 children die from air-pollution related causes every year. The Environmental Health division at Vital Strategies has been working with UNICEF Indonesia to highlight the growing threat of air pollution to children’s health in Indonesia and to explore long-term mitigation solutions.
In July, Vital Strategies partnered with Bappenas (Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning), the Provincial Government of Jakarta and UNICEF Indonesia, to host “The Air We Breathe,” [KS1] a symposium in Jakarta that called on experts to discuss air pollution and children’s health, and the evidence-based policies needed to create cleaner air. Vital Strategies and UNICEF Indonesia also released an evidence brief to inform governments and other stakeholders on the mounting data that points to lifelong physical and cognitive damage to children affected by air pollution. Here are some facts:
To improve air quality, Vital Strategies calls for Indonesia to increase its investment in air quality measurement and management, and to take an intersectoral approach to tackling the leading sources of pollution. This includes promotion of clean household energy, seeking alternatives to the burning of open waste and agricultural residues, ensuring smoke-free environments, developing and enforcing stricter emissions regulations for industry and vehicles, and preventing peatland fires.
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