Kathmandu, November 7 UNICEF has called for urgent action to address air pollution crisis and urged the governments in the South Asia region and around the world to take urgent steps to reduce air pollution. A press statement issued by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H Fore from New York on toxic air in South Asia today suggested governments to combat air pollution by investing in clean and renewable source of energy to replace fossil fuel, provide affordable access to clean public transport, increase green space in urban areas, change agricultural practices and provide better waste management options to prevent open burning of harmful waste. “I was just in South Asia where I saw first-hand how children continue to suffer from dire consequences of air pollution. The air quality was at a crisis level. You could smell the toxic fog even from behind an air filtration mask. From every neighbourhood, you could see the pollution obscuring buildings, trees and people. Schools and offices closed or curtailed hours. With winter approaching, the situation is set to become even worse,” she said in the statement. “Children have right to live in a clean environment and to breathe clean air. We must act now.”According to Fore, around 620 million children in the region breathe polluted, toxic air. Because they have smaller lungs, they breathe twice as fast as adults, and lack immunity that come with age. Children suffer its damaging health and neurological effects the most. Air pollution is associated with one of the biggest killers of children pneumonia, and is linked to asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections. Air pollution damages brain tissue and undermines cognitive development in babies and young children, leading to lifelong consequences that can affect their learning outcomes and future potential. There is evidence to suggest that adolescents exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more likely to experience mental health problems. “Toxicity to children’s brain development and health is also toxic to society, which no government can afford to ignore. The ripple effects extend far and wide. When children are sick, they frequently miss school. In extreme cases, when the air is toxic, schools may close, as we have seen in Delhi just this week. Pollution levels were literally above the range that sensors could measure, many times above what can reasonably be considered safe for children and clearly presenting grave risks to their health and development,” she said. Health expenses may increase if children need care and treatment.