On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating that pollution and dirty conditions kill 25 percent of children who die younger than five each year — or around 1.7 million children a year.
The unhealthy conditions include unsanitary water and air, second-hand smoke and an absence of satisfactory hygiene, according to Reuters.
WHO states in its report that a combination of these factors creates the perfect breeding ground for fatal instances of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea.
“A polluted environment is a deadly one -– particularly for young children,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”
Pollution exposure starts in the womb, according to the WHO, and its effects become that much worse if babies and toddlers continue interacting with a polluted environment.
Still, the organization concedes that there is cause for hope.
“Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” said Maria Neira, a WHO expert on public health, in the statement.
Drilling down into specifics, the report finds that air-related infections such as pneumonia kill 570,000 children under the age of five each year, while diarrhea caused by polluted water kills yet another 361,000 young children annually.
Pollution is a global killer, claiming just as many (if not more lives) than other epidemics. According to the Guardian, outdoor air pollution is responsible for killing 3 million people each year — a figure higher than the combined death toll of malaria and HIV/AIDs.
The problem appears to be worsening. Air pollution rates are rising across the world, with impoverished and developing nations seeing the sharpest uptick, according to a May 2016 report from the WHO.