Over 8,500 children die every year in Bangladesh from diseases caused by household air pollution (HAP) and 89 percent of households use solid fuels, mostly wood, agricultural waste and cow manure, for cooking and space heating.
Bangladesh has one of the largest burdens of child mortality associated with indoor air pollution, according to a new Unicef report titled “Clear the air for children: The impact of air pollution on children”.
The reasons for relatively limited uptake of improved stoves to date include a lack of awareness of health risks associated with HAP, higher costs compared to traditional stoves and competing development priorities, the report said.
Seeking to overcome these barriers, the Bangladesh Country Action Plan for Clean Cookstoves is a governmental strategy to achieve the goal of 100 percent clean cooking solutions by 2030.
The target is to disseminate improved stoves to more than 30 million households by 2030. If this goal is reached, it would significantly reduce the direct and indirect health effects of children's exposure to air pollutants.
It would also have a positive impact on women's health and time spent in the kitchen as Bangladeshi women on average spend four to five hours a day on cooking, and six to eight hours a day in the kitchen.
Almost one in seven of the world's children, 300 million, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution, six or more times higher than international guidelines, reveals the new report.
Clear the Air for Children uses satellite imagery to show for the first time how many children are exposed to outdoor pollution that exceeds global guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
The findings come a week ahead of the COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco, where Unicef is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries.
“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year - and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“Pollutants don't only harm children's developing lungs - they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains - and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”
The satellite imagery confirms that around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the WHO.
South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million.
The East Asia and Pacific region has 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.
The study also examines the heavy toll of indoor pollution, commonly caused by use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating, which mostly affects children of the low-income groups in rural areas.
Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children's health.
A study on Bangladesh found that children under 5, regardless of gender, spend an hour a day in cooking areas because of their reliance on their mothers, said the Unicef report.
From age 5 to 60, women's hours in cooking areas steadily rise from 1 hour a day to 3.8 hours a day, while men's hours in cooking areas decline from 1 hour a day to 0.2 hours a day. After age 60, women's hours in cooking areas rapidly fall, averaging at 1.5 hours a day.
However, women's time in cooking areas beyond the age of 60 still remains higher than men's (averaging at 0.2 hours per day).