Dr Kerstin Leitner addresses the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention
World Health Organization Statement to the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention
COP1, 2-6 May 2005, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Delivered by: Dr Kerstin Leitner, Assistant Director-General, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments, World Health Organization.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This first Conference of the Parties (COP) marks the beginning of a significant international endeavour - to eliminate those persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that pose unacceptable risks to human health and the world's eco-systems.
To achieve this objective will demand national action, which can be enhanced through international support and through collaboration across national boundaries. This Conference of the Parties as well as subsequent ones will hopefully provide the forum where we can define the scope such collective action.
Implementing the Convention will require an integrated set of actions - by different sectors of government (health, environment, agriculture, industry and trade, finance) and a full range of non-governmental stakeholders (industry, civil society) at both national and international levels.
WHO has been and remains fully engaged in collaborative activities with UNEP, FAO, and other organisations of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) as well as through the activities of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS). WHO's regional and country offices and collaborating centres provide an extensive technical and scientific resource base from which country needs can be addressed and support can be provided.
The Stockholm Convention is understandably a priority for WHO's work with regard to healthy environments.
POPs have an inherent ability to be transported in the environment across geographical and political borders, accumulating in water, soil, plants and animals. Through the food chain they enter the human body. Their inherent toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation has the potential to impact harmfully on the health of people, and many are not aware, or when aware, are not in a position to protect themselves. This is particularly true in developing countries in degraded environments.
The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), a joint programme of WHO, UNEP and ILO and the joint WHO/FAO Expert Meetings on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) demonstrate the importance of reaching a sound international scientific consensus as a basis for risk management. Over the years, both arrangements have established a strong and recognised international process resulting in a series of assessment reports which have been used for national and international decision-making, including the listing of chemicals under the Stockholm Convention.
Furthermore, IPCS has an active programme of risks assessment methodology and harmonisation. These are currently addressing a number of substances known to be persistent organic pollutants and are refining methodologies for assessing complex mixtures of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds which are posing risks to human health.
Assessments of POPs and collaborative research to date confirm a paucity of information on levels of POPs in humans. For this reason, WHO has monitored human milk for chemical contaminants for several decades. As part of its Global Environmental Monitoring Programme for Food, a protocol has been developed in collaboration with UNEP to enable countries to collect more reliable and comparable monitoring data on the levels of POPs in human milk. WHO is looking forward to working with countries in the context of the Convention to strengthen these and other biomonitoring efforts at the national level, anchoring the global data sets firmly on the results of national monitoring efforts.
The limitations placed on the use of DDT under the Convention seeks increased protection of the environment, while ensuring that countries which still need to use DDT for disease vector control are able to do so. We are glad to see that the focus is shifting towards identifying sustainable and cost-effective alternatives. WHO welcomes this new direction and the call for global leadership to foster viable partnerships.
We are fully aware that a sustainable transition from DDT will require significant technical and financial investment from both public and private sources, which may take time to mobilize. Therefore we will continue to strengthen the capacity of countries (i) to enable a science-based determination of actual need for DDT within local settings; and (ii) to establish effective management of DDT and to put into place robust environmental safeguards.In this regard, we would like to mention our increased collaboration with UNEP and FAO to assist countries to meet these immediate requirements.
In the medium to longer term, concerted global effort is needed to accelerate research and development of alternative interventions, and to ensure access by countries to these alternatives. The assessment of alternatives to current and future POPs must weigh and take into account not only their potential human and environmental health risks but also their effectiveness in disease control. Many alternatives will have less information available on them and so will require careful public health decision - making in the face of uncertain risks. The development and transfer of the technology for long lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) to Africa, for which WHO played a central facilitating role, demonstrates how much can be achieved through effective partnerships.
Countries which have ratified the convention are now proceeding to prepare their national implementation plans. We hope that public health concerns will be duly considered and the health-sector's capabilities with regard to the bio-monitoring and the management of POPs will be assessed as a matter of course. WHO is planning in collaboration with interested countries to seek funding from GEF and other sources for this work.
Engagement of the health sector is critical to facilitate implementation of the Convention. Awareness raising, advocacy and training are important initial steps. Current work with pediatricians has shown the needs of primary health-care providers in improving communication and understanding about POPs within local communities. We know that children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of POPs, and WHO will pay special attention to their situation.
WHO's governing bodies are reviewing and discussing this year the health sector's participation in national and international chemicals management, and we hope that through these discussions the awareness of the public health authorities will be heightened and their willingness to participate in the implementation of this Convention will be strengthened, and that we can move forward in all countries party to this convention with a strong health and environment alliance.