88.4 pc children in Bengal consider air pollution a threat

Kolkata, Nov 17 (Bureau) Concerned about the detrimental effects of air pollution on children and the associated rise in mortality rates and health issues especially during the winter, around 1500 children from four polluted cities Kolkata, Durgapur, Bardhaman and Asansol took to the streets, advocating for their right to breathe clean air, in observance of Child Rights Week. The children came together for a peaceful walk to convey a powerful message of their right to breathe clean air. In a unique show to seek their right to breathe clean air, children from schools, youth from colleges and Child Rights based organizations of West Bengal took to the streets for a peaceful walk advocating their fundamental right to breathe clean air. The initiative aimed to raise awareness about the importance of clean air for the well-being of children and to emphasize their right to grow up in a healthy environment.

These young children embarked on a symbolic journey, highlighting the need for collective action to address air quality issues. Through this peaceful walk, the children conveyed that access to clean air is not just a privilege but a fundamental right that must be safeguarded. Sudeshna Roy, Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, said, “Our children’s plea for clean air is a powerful reminder that their right to a healthy future must be prioritised. Let’s take action, make the air they breathe safe, and show our commitment towards keeping them well.” Karuna Singh, Country Director, Earth Day Network, said, “Let us unite in the pursuit of a healthier, more sustainable future, where the dreams of our children are nurtured in an environment free from the threats of air pollution.”

In Kolkata, around 300 children came together for the Walk for Clean Air. Vinay Jaju, Managing Director, SwitchON Foundation, said, “An entire generation of children are in jeopardy, Our survey with children and youth show, that they are deeply concerned about air pollution, the solutions are in front of us, event children know it – It is time to come together for our future generation and secure their right to healthy clean air.” Over the years experts have been saying that children are more vulnerable to pollution because their lungs are underdeveloped and their immune systems are weaker. And yet, nine out of 10 children around the world are breathing in toxins that exceed safe levels. Over the years, the situation has become critical, even global bodies like UNICEF have predicted that air pollution will become the leading cause of child mortality by 2050. However, all children should have the right to breathe clean air. A flash survey was done by SwitchON Foundation on the Children and Youth perception of Air Quality in West Bengal. The survey was conducted among a total of 554 youth to assess their perceptions of air pollution. The study revealed that 88.4% of youths believe air pollution poses a significant threat to human health.

It was found that 47.3% of youths consider vehicles as the primary contributor to air pollution, while 33.8% consider industries, followed by road dust, open waste and coal power plants. The study also revealed that 53% of male respondents and 52% of female respondents consider vehicular emissions as a significant concern for individuals aged 19 to 25, irrespective of gender. Among individuals aged 12 to 18, only females constitute a substantial proportion (6%) who identify bursting firecrackers as a primary cause of air pollution. This suggests a distinct gender-based trend in perception within this specific age group. The report shows that children under 12 years old consider landfills as the predominant source of air pollution which underscores the significance of waste disposal practices as a key concern. The survey brought out the fact that youth actively advocate for government promotion of renewable energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, thereby directly alleviating the state’s air pollution situation.

The youth endorsed mandatory environmental education in educational institutions, urging the government to embrace this vital strategy for effectively tackling and addressing the challenges posed by air pollution. Majority of the youth emphasized the significance of urging the government to prioritize eco-friendly transportation, including traditional cycles and modern electric vehicles. Dr. Kaustav Chowdhury, Pediatric Consultant, Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, said, “The fine and ultrafine particulate matters may directly traverse through umbilical blood vessels and affect the fetus( in utero baby) and causes a systemic inflammation which can produce behavioural problems in a child after birth. It’s our duty to bring and nurture a child to this beautiful world which should be Air pollution free.” The event featured heartwarming moments as children, accompanied by parents, teachers, and community members, came together in solidarity. Children carried banners and placards with messages advocating for clean air and the right of every child to live in an environment that nurtures their physical and mental well-being.

A school student attending the walk said, “I have seen my friends suffer from breathlessness, I have constant coughs and cold and can’t enjoy sports and playing outside. I don’t like the pollution and hence request citizens to take actions to tackle the increasing air pollution.” Nivedita Ghosh Dastidar, Teacher, Techno India School, Garia said, “Our Children are the future of our existence and we adults have the responsibility to listen to their appeal to act against air pollution. The walk for Clean Air along with SwitchON Foundation enabled my students to unite for Clean Air.” Sutirtha Ghosal, Program Manager, Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) said, “Air pollution is one of the most visible manifestations of how the climate crisis is deepening to the extent of choking humanity. We stand with our children for their Call for Clean Air.”