|Friends and Colleagues,
is a pleasure to be with you at this important event today and to share the platform with
the Executive Director of UNEP, Dr Töpfer. Here today we are bringing UN Health and
Environment Agencies together. I look forward to meet Dr Töpfer again in August when WHO
and UNEP will sign a memorandum of understanding on our future intensified collaboration.
You, in this audience, are vital allies in the global efforts to put health and
environment issues high on the political agenda. You have played a key role at this
conference and you have fought for many years to put into action the concept of
sustainable development. Protection and promotion of health and environment are central to
achieving this goal.
The European region has made tangible progress in the areas of health and environment.
But important inequalities and inequities remain inside countries and between countries.
And the global inequalities, between East and West, and North and South, remain one of the
most serious constraints on the improvement of health and environment and people's
opportunity to progress.
As long as 3 billion people live in absolute poverty, further progress will remain
slow. As long as health is seen as the responsibility of the health authorities alone, and
not the shared responsibility of individuals, communities, employers, and all government
agencies at all levels, sustainable development remains a lofty goal.
Let me repeat what I told the ministers: We have to remind Prime Ministers and Finance
Ministers that they are truly Health Ministers themselves. And as health is so dependent
on a healthy physical environment, free of health-threatening pollutants, pathogens, and
physical hazards, Ministers of Environment are in essence Ministers of Health.
This conference has been successful in placing environment and health issues high on
the political agenda of governments, non-governmental and international organizations, as
well as at local level. It has been successful in bringing together key players from a
broad spectrum of disciplines. It offers a unique opportunity for concerted action for
health and the environment in the context of sustainable development.
We must seize this opportunity. The European electorates send a clear message. They
expect their governments to deal with key issues for the future of their children and they
place health and environment high on their priority lists.
We face formidable challenges to health and the environment on a global and regional
One billion people worldwide lack adequate water supplies. Three billion people lack
proper and hygienic sanitation facilities. Lack of access to safe water and sanitation are
key risk factors for diarrhoeal diseases, which remain one of the major killers of
children. Poor water, sanitation and hygiene practices add to this disease burden, causing
an estimated 7-8% of all disease and injury in developing countries.
Outdoor air pollution accounts for 3-4% of the burden of premature mortality and
disability in Eastern Europe and causes at least half a million deaths worldwide each
Take also indoor air pollution from domestic wood and coal burning for cooking and
heating a key risk factor for acute respiratory infections in childhood, another
major killer of young children in developing countries. The health of women is also
severely affected by exposure to such high levels of air pollution in the home
We also need to address the global dimensions of problems related to urban air
pollution, transboundary pollution, contamination of our water, air and soil resources,
and the health problems related to degradation of the global environment. Rapid
urbanisation and industrialisation, in the face of globalisation of the world economy,
pose challenges to us all in terms of ensuring sustainable development and healthy living
conditions in the next millenium.
No single actor can bring about change alone. It is only by working in partnership,
across sectors, with all segments of society, including women, children, the elderly,
trade unions, the private sector and many others, that we will have any real chance of
achieving lasting success.
Already we have made great strides. Take the National Environmental Health Action
Plans. They are effective voluntary international agreements. Since our last gathering
five years ago, most European countries have developed their plans. Now we need to
implement them. They are a good example of integrated policy making, of the kind of
approaches that are so badly needed. They were built on accountability and consultation
and they bring together key partners such as industry, local authorities, energy and
transport to tackle priorities in waste, food, radiation, health and safety.
We need to encourage civil society to work with governments on environment, health and
development issues. The debate here in London must result in even greater openness and
democracy in the decisions that effect both our health and the quality of our environment.
WHO will enhance the scope of NGO interaction. We will seek ways to better direct our
combined energies at improving health and environmental conditions. Diverse and different
as we and our constituencies are, we face a common threat to our common future.
Public support and involvement in seeking solutions is of vital importance. Equally
important is the need to involve the private sector. No one can ignore the impact of
economic growth patterns built on unsustainable practices for the future of our children.
Vocal NGOs are key. The issue of lead poisoning was largely brought to the attention of
decision-makers by NGOs, as was the case here in the United Kingdom.
We need to work together to focus more attention on environment, health and development
problems which disproportionately affect the poor, and other risk groups such as young
children, women, and the elderly.
To do that, we must work across ministries, political, economic, social and
geographical boundaries, and with a wide variety of groups and organizations. This is what
action in partnership means.
Let me briefly outline some specific things we do at WHO:
- We will continue to provide ongoing support in the development and implementation of the
National Environmental Health Action Plans. We would like to see these integrated into
national sustainable development planning efforts. We will focus our efforts in assisting
in this process, on a worldwide basis.
- We will go further, and help to strengthen the institutional capacity in countries to
implement these plans. This will mean helping to evaluate the potential contribution of a
wide variety of service providers, including, importantly, the providers of environmental
- Several clusters in WHO will be involved as well as our newly initiated Cabinet Project
on health sector development. We will build on the valuable experience gained in Europe.
- We will work to develop the necessary capacity not only at national level, but also at
local level, and give our support to the local health, environment and sustainable
development planning efforts which are underway.
- We will work to provide the necessary evidence and guidance to strengthen the basis for
intersectoral action in sustainable development policy and planning. We will determine
best practices, and disseminate such examples worldwide, so that all may benefit and learn
- We will continue to strengthen the knowledge base on the linkages between health,
environment and development.
- WHO will be actively supporting and implementing the specific provisions of the Water
Protocol, the Charter on Transport, Environment and Health, and the Ministerial
Declaration. I am convinced that the Charter on Transport, Environment and Health will
make a difference in helping solve not only Europe's transport problems, but also
those of other countries. Similarly, I believe that the protocol on water and health will
have a significant impact on countries in other regions of the world. We will work to
ensure that the methods and approaches we develop, as well as the normative and technical
guidelines on water supply and water quality are globally relevant and applicable.
- We will strengthen our efforts on the needs of special groups such as young children. We
will build upon the G8 Declaration on Children's Environmental Health made in 1997.
Let me particularly mention the hazards of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) for children.
WHO has made global tobacco control a global priority not least because of the
impact on children.
- At regional and country level, we will be working with other sectors, to ensure that we
address the global dimensions of the environment and development process.
- We will also intensify our efforts in ensuring that the health components of Agenda 21
are adequately addressed in the follow-up to Rio. The health sector should take its
rightful place at the core of the sustainable development agenda, and actively contribute
to the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
We will do all of this by working in partnership with a wide range of groups, sectors,
government departments, and NGOs.
Indeed, the London Conference has been highly successful in helping to catalyse such
action. Let us now take this agenda forward together.