Asia Cooperates to Prevent Millions of Environmental Deaths
August 27, 2007
At least 6.6 million people die each year in southern Asia due to environmental factors - about 25 percent of all deaths in the region, according to the World Health Organization. Meeting in Bangkok last week, ministers from across the region agreed with environmental and health officials on a plan to reduce that number.
Over the last 50 years, environmental pollution in southern Asia has intensified due to rapid industrialization, urbanization and motorization.
Child with garbage in Pasig City, Philippines (Photo by Mark Gary courtesy WHO/WPRO)
The result has been urban air pollution, the generation of solid and hazardous wastes, as well as numerous disasters and emergencies created by human activities, the officials acknowledged.
"The region's high death toll from environmental degradation can be avoided if we are determined to reverse the current trend," said Shigeru Omi.
Omi is Western Pacific director of the UN World Health Organization, WHO, which jointly organized the First Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Bangkok with the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.
The meeting was aimed at strengthening cooperation between ministries responsible for environment and health within Southeast and East Asian countries and across the region.
"Solving environmental health problems requires collaboration between health and environmental sectors. We need to strengthen our collective commitment to priority environmental health challenges in the region," said Omi.
At the two-day meeting last week, ministers and senior officials adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Environment and Health.
The accompanying regional charter identified six environmental and health priorities for joint policies and programs over the next three years:
• air quality
• water supply, hygiene and sanitation
• solid and hazardous waste
• toxic chemicals and hazardous substances
• climate change, ozone depletion and ecosystem change
• contingency planning, preparedness and response to environmental health emergencies
A regional thematic working group has been established for each priority area.
"The Bangkok Declaration takes us a firm step forward from monitoring and assessment of sectoral issues towards the prevention of health impacts," said UNEP Regional Director Surendra Shrestha.
Homes in Hanoi, Vietnam (Photo by Elodie Tomka courtesy WHO/WPRO)
Dr. Vallop Thainuea, deputy minister for Thailand's Ministry of Public Health said, "Since the capacities of countries in the region to deal with environmental health problems are limited, we need to have better intersectoral coordination."
"Harmonized policy responses need to be formulated for the transboundary environmental risk to health. Consequently, there is the need for an integrated management of health and environmental issues in the region," said Thainuea.
The Bangkok Declaration provides a mechanism for sharing knowledge and experiences, improves policy and regulatory frameworks at the national and regional level, and promotes the implementation
The ministerial meeting held on August 9 opened with a scientific segment chaired by Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand, president of the Chulabhorn Research Institute.
The princess stressed the importance of addressing environmental health issues in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly carcinogenic air pollutants.
She said the Chulabhorn Research Institute will utilize its links to other institutions and experts in the fields of environmental science and human health, as well as its network of research collaborators, to assist countries in the region to develop the human resources and capacity to deal with these environmental problems.
The Ministerial Regional Forum was attended by environment and health ministers and high level officials from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Representatives from the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the World Bank also attended the meeting.
A Second Ministerial Regional Forum is planned in 2010 to review progress in implementing the new regional Charter.