By J Nastranis
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has faulted the majority of wealthy countries for creating unhealthy, dangerous and noxious conditions for children across the world. These include Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway, which are otherwise providing healthier environments for children within their borders.
According to the latest Report Card published on May 24 by the UNICEF Office of Research. Gunilla Olsson, Director of the UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti said the majority of rich countries are in fact failing to provide healthy environments for children within their borders.
The latest Innocenti Report Card 17: Places and Spaces compares how 39 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) impact children’s environments.
The report states that if everybody in the world consumed resources at the rate people do in OECD and EU countries, the equivalent of 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels.
If everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five earths would be needed.
The Innocent Report card’s findings include:
Over 20 million children in this group of countries have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead is one of the most dangerous environmental toxic substances.
Finland, Iceland and Norway rank in the top third for providing a healthy environment for their children yet rank in the bottom third for the world at large, with high rates of emissions, e-waste and consumption.
In Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and the United Kingdom 1 in 5 children is exposed to damp and mould at home; while in Cyprus, Hungary and Turkey, more than 1 in 4 children is exposed.
Many children are breathing toxic air both outside and inside their homes. Mexico has among the highest number of years of healthy life lost due to air pollution at 3.7 years per thousand children, while Finland and Japan have the lowest at 0.2 years.
In Belgium, the Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland more than 1 in 12 children are exposed to high pesticide pollution. Pesticide pollution has been linked with cancer, including childhood leukaemia and can harm children’s nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, endocrine, blood and immune systems.
UNICEF is calling for the following steps to protect and improve children’s environments:
Governments at the national, regional and local levels need to lead on improvements to children’s environments today, by reducing waste, air and water pollution, and by ensuring high-quality housing and neighbourhoods.
Improve environments for the most vulnerable children. Children in poor families tend to face greater exposure to environmental harm than do children in richer families. This entrenches and amplifies existing disadvantages and inequities.
Ensure that environmental policies are child-sensitive. Governments and policymakers should make sure that the needs of children are built into decision making. Adult decision-makers at all levels, from parents to politicians, must listen to their perspectives and take them into account when designing policies that will disproportionately affect future generations.
Involve children, the main stakeholders of the future: Children will face today’s environmental problems for the longest time, but they are also the least able to influence the course of events.
Governments and businesses should take effective action now to honour the commitments they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Adaptation to climate change should also be at the forefront of action for both governments and the global community, and across various sectors from education to infrastructure.
“We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to create better places and spaces for children to thrive,” said Olsson. “Mounting waste, harmful pollutants and exhausted natural resources are taking a toll on our children’s physical and mental health and threatening our planet’s sustainability. We must pursue policies and practices that safeguard the natural environment upon which children and young people depend the most.”