An estimated 600,000 children died from respiratory infections caused by polluted air in 2016 while more than 90 per cent of young people breathe air so polluted it puts their health and development at risk, according to the World Health Organization. 

That data is among the findings of a new WHO report showing that air pollution is one of the leading threats to the health of children, accounting for almost one in 10 deaths in children aged under five.

It shows that while 93 per cent of children under 15 years of age globally are exposed to pollution levels above WHO air quality guidelines, that figure rises to 98 per cent in low and middle-income countries.

The report also reveals that the exposure of pregnant women to polluted air increases the likelihood of premature births and can impact the eurodevelopment and cognitive ability of children as well as can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, and in some cases increase the risk of chronic diseases later in life.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said polluted air was "poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives".

“This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”

WHO is working to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants through accelerating the move to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning and preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better waste management.