Health Impact Assessment (HIA)

News of Rio+20 - Health events

Brazil, 20 June 2012

Sustainable food and nutrition security requires multi-sectoral partnerships that include women, says Rio+20 panel

Multi-sectoral and multi-thematic partnerships are critical to implementing the Rio+20 commitments on food and nutrition security, health and climate change, said members of a Rio+20 side event panel focusing on the linkages between food, nutrition security, health and gender equality.

Health is a pre-condition as well as an outcome of all three dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social and economic). Identifying the co-benefits to health of more sustainable food policies can be important in fostering buy-in from policymakers and cooperation, said Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment of the World Health Organization.

Left to right: Olav Kjorven, UNDP; Maria Neira, WHO; Paul Larsen, WFP; Cristina Tirado, UCLA at Berkeley; Carlos Seré, IFAD; Ann Tutwiler, FAO.

“Women are still cooking like they did in the Stone Age,” Neira noted, referring to the gains in health, climate and reduced pressures on deforestation that are possible with the introduction of more efficient cooking methods.

The 20 June event, "Partnerships for the integration of food and nutrition security, health and gender equality", was organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Public Health Institute, USA. WHO was among the other six agency co-organizers along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice (MRFCJ), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and World Food Programme (WFP).

Empowering women to be equal partners in sustainable development is important to ensuring success, suggested Olaf Kjorven, UNDP assistant secretary general. Many of the people farming small plots of land (e.g. one hectare or less) are women.

There is also a need to develop more successful strategies for bringing the private sector to the table to collaborate on development partnerships noted Ben Knapen, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands. He expressed confidence that in the future, civil society (including the private sector) will play a significantly larger role in sustainable development. A role that is possibly even greater than that of governments.

Participants expressed some degree of satisfaction with the fact that the draft resolution of the Rio+20 Conference recognizes the critical linkages between “agriculture, nutrition and health” and “gender and climate change", as well as the need for cross-sectoral partnerships around those issues.

Still, Mary Robinson, of MRFCJ, said that the absence of some tenets of sustainable development from the draft declaration were “unacceptable”. What development agencies need to do now, she said, is to “turn the frustration into energy, and strengthen the constituency that desires change.”

Ertharin Cousin, of WFP, stressed the importance of cultural sensitivities in food, agriculture and nutrition programmes. “Too often we develop programmes that don’t correspond to the participants’ needs and experience,” she said.

The event included the launch of a policy brief on: “Food and nutrition security, health and gender equality to achieve climate-resilient sustainable development: partnerships for climate resilient sustainable development”. The policy brief outlines critical key messages that call for “effective, transparent and results-oriented partnerships working together to achieve equitable and climate-resilient sustainable development”. For more information, link to

Local action and partnerships for more resilient people and communities

Meanwhile, at a side event on building community resilience in the face of emergencies and disasters, the importance of local disaster preparedness and response capacity, international/national/ local coordination, and long-term investments in disaster risk management were the focus of discussion.

Participants suggested that while the media typically focuses attention on the international response to disasters, it is the local community capacity which is the most important factor in a successful emergency response that saves lives and reducing health impacts.

"Whenever there is a crisis, people will fly to help," noted Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. "But if we are serious about building resilience, we should ensure local participation and respect local knowledge."

Left to right: Ertharin Cousin, WFP; Christian Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark; Goli Amari, IFRC; Margaret Chan, WHO; Ambassador Gabriel Marcelo Fuks, White Helmets Initiative, REHU.

She added that in order to ensure genuine resilience, more fundamental health issues and infrastructures must also be addressed.

"If you have poverty and ill-health, we cannot have resilience and sustainable development…The health and development community also needs to invest in the strengthening of basic health infrastructures, ideally with the goal of reaching universal health coverage," Chan said.

Building resilience is a good economic investment in communities, emphasized Goli Amari, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

"Long-term investment in resilience can be cost effective and make economic sense," Amari said. "Each dollar invested in prevention saves seven dollars in disaster mitigation."

The event was organized by the IFRC and co-organized by Denmark, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank (WB) and the World Health Organization.