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Bernard van Leer Foundation, Clean Air Fund roll out a video campaign

Air pollution can have a deeply corrosive and long-term effect not just on the environment but also on the health of infants and toddlers whose brains and bodies are still developing.

Newborns and infants take an estimated 30 to 60 breaths per minute while toddlers take 24 to 40 – this is much higher than the adult respiratory rate of 12 to 16. As a result, they take in more toxic air. At the same time, children have smaller airways and live closer to the ground – which means that air pollutants affect them even more. This can result in underdeveloped lungs, poor cognitive development, and delayed brain maturation. 

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The fact that 17 million babies are born every year in South Asia where outdoor air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits should make clean air the region’s top priority. To underscore the urgent need for clean air for infants, toddlers, and caregivers in our cities, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, in collaboration with the Clean Air Fund, launched a video campaign at the Urban95 Global Convening – India Session on September 8th, 2021.

Urban95 is an initiative created in 2016 by the Bernard van Leer Foundation to help change the landscapes and opportunities that shape young children’s lives. Central to this initiative is the question “If you could experience the city from 95 cm, what would you change?” Working with city leaders, planners, architects, and innovators, Urban95 is helping to bring this perspective to the centre of design decisions in cities around the world.


Produced by ‘Jamun’ for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the campaign has been crafted in a fun, informative video-game format that relates well to young children and their caregivers (parents, grandparents, etc). The video portrays the journey of the child protagonist Rinku, an 8-bit character, who is curious and playful. The video shows him navigating the city with the Start The Game button. Each time Rinku interacts with a source of pollution, his ‘health bar’ dips, and the on-screen text tells us how poor air quality affects a child. The video also highlights sources of air pollution and health hazards that can harm toddlers as they navigate neighbourhoods or cities.

In the video, the sky looks greyish and dull, depicting the familiar scenario of urban smog, lack of green spaces, and overcrowding. Soon, we see Rinku encountering burning trash in a market. In the next clip, we see him coming across a sweeper and, due to his short height, Rinku breathes in more particulate matter. Dust, vehicle exhaust, smoke, and hazardous particles are usually closer to the ground. Children between the age of 0 to 5 years – with 95 cm being the average height of a healthy three-year-old, according to WHO standards – are likely to be affected most by such pollutants. According to a 2017 study, nearly 1,85,000 children aged between 0 to 5 years die in India due to air pollution-related causes such as lower respiratory tract infections, reflecting the fact that 95% of all children that die of air pollution are under 5 years old.

Rushda Majeed, India Representative, Bernard van Leer Foundation, said: “Air quality is one of the biggest challenges of our times. Among infants, the impact is even more detrimental as it affects their brain and physical development, and can have an adverse, lifelong impact. With this video campaign, we intend to showcase the impact of polluted air through the lens of infants and toddlers (0 to 5-year-olds) and urge everyone to take urgent steps towards finding practical and immediate solutions.”

Reecha Upadhyay, Head of India Programme, Clean Air Fund, said: “This is a significant campaign delivered in a form that appeals to everyone. The content is easily consumed and strikes a chord. It depicts the pollutants children encounter every day in an urban environment and their effect on health. The objective is to create an understanding of why cleaning up our air should be a top priority for all of us and what long-term effect inaction can have on communities.”


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