World Summit on Sustainable Development

Healthy Environments for Children Alliance

Inaugurated 1 September 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the "Healthy Environments for Children Alliance" is an essential component of the follow-up to WSSD, and realisation of the health and environment components of the Millennium Development Goals. The overall objective of the initiative is to scale up global action to address priority health dangers and risks in the places where children live, are educated, and play. A number of important risk factors will be focused on in differing settings: for example, water (quantity and quality); hygiene and sanitation; insect vectors of disease; air pollution (e.g., indoor air pollution through solid fuel use and passive smoking); chemicals (e.g., pesticides, lead); unintentional injuries (accidents) in and around the home; and unhealthy behaviours.

The Initiative will encourage a groundswell of action at the local level, in particular, through many sectors (including health, environment, education, housing, agriculture, energy, water, local government and social protection sectors). It will involve numerous groups (for example, community groups, non-governmental organizations, private entities and others with an interest) alongside national governments within the context of national and local plans where they exist. The emphasis will be on getting different groups to work together on agreed strategies, but in ways that reflect their interests and strengths. The initiative will be as inclusive as possible, with emphasis on the stewardship of governments and of a supportive alliance of key organizations and institutions at the global, national, and local levels.

The first alliance-building meeting subsequent to WSSD took place at WHO HQ, 3 - 4 December, 2003. About 80 representatives of NGOs, UN and intergovernmental organizations, governments, academia and the private sector attended the meeting. Participants agreed that healthy environments for children warranted greater global attention and scaled-up efforts, and that an alliance was an appropriate mechanism to move forward in this area.

Participants identified the need for HECA to focus on children and settings, in addressing environmental risk issues. They suggested that HECA needs to complement and link with existing initiatives, define measures of success, be focused on results, and be flexible enough to take into account of regional and sub-regional needs. It was agreed to set up an interim multi-institutional task force to recommend on the key issues, strategies, and action-planning process of the alliance. Participants also supported housing an interim secretariat within WHO to support the building of this alliance.

In parallel to the alliance development process, increased attention was given to awareness raising and advocacy. With the theme “Shape the Future of Life: Healthy Environments for Children,” World Health Day (WHD), 7 April 2003, generated global attention on the importance of safeguarding the environments where children live, learn and play, and raised awareness about the linkages between children’s environments and their health. More than 300 WHD events in over 100 countries were organized to mark this day.

The profile of healthy environments for children was raised again on 20 May 2003 during the Fifty-sixth World Health Assembly where ministerial round table discussions took place. Ministers of health or their representatives participated enthusiastically in the events, analyzing the issues and indicating how they felt the challenges of unhealthy environment would best be tackled.

  • HECA Web site - See the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance Web site for HECA advocacy and background documents, more information on the alliance-building process, and relevant links and events.
  • World Health Day 2003 Web site - This site contains information and advocacy materials on healthy environments for children, including a brochure, a tool kit for WHD event organisers, a poster, a logo and slogan, and a sticker.
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