WHO Director General and UNEP Executive Director: "Healthy Environment Important for Human Health"

by CCAC secretariat - 27 May, 2016
Dr Margaret Chan and Achim Steiner exchange video messages during the World Health Assembly and UN Environment Assembly: Air pollution a critical issue

The heads of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Health Organization (WHO) exchanged video messages today calling for greater cooperation to reduce the environmental threats to human health.

In a video message to delegates attending the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2) in Nairobi, Kenya this week, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the harm caused by air pollution and exposure to hazardous chemicals was a new epidemic, overtaking major infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

“The numbers are stunning,” Dr Chan said. “WHO estimates that 12.6 million people die each year from exposure to hazards lurking in the environment. Some 7 million of these deaths are attributed to air pollution, which is now the single largest environmental risk to health”.

Worldwide air pollution is responsible for one third of deaths from lung cancer, stroke and respiratory diseases.

Dr Margaret Chan's, WHO Director General, message to the UN Environment Assembly, 27 May, 2016
Dr Margaret Chan's, WHO Director General, message to the UN Environment Assembly, 27 May, 2016
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Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, in his video message to delegates attending the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, said that it was thanks to the valuable work of the WHO that we now know that at least 23 percent of deaths worldwide are related to environmental factors and that the burden on public health systems can be lowered by improving environmental quality, conserving and restoring ecosystems, and reducing pollution.  

“For too long human health and the environment have been treated as separate agendas. The time has come to bring them more closely together. To ensure that policies promote health and the environment at the same time,” Mr Steiner said. “By working together we can transform the 2030 agenda for sustainable development into a reality, eliminating poverty for the world’s poorest people while living healthy lives on a healthy planet”.

Achim Steiner message for World Health Assembly
UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, addresses the World Health Assembly
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The WHO recently released its urban air quality database, which found more than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits. 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines.

This week UNEP released a report, Actions on Air Quality,  that takes stock of global action to improve air quality. The report found that while countries in all regions are taking action to improve air quality, the majority of countries still need to adopt priority policies and actions to address air quality issues.

“We know too that air pollution is fueling the striking rise of non-communicable diseases,” Dr Chan said.  “Worldwide air pollution is responsible for one third of deaths from lung cancer, stroke and respiratory diseases”.

Dr Chan called WHO’s long collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme a “solid platform for joint action” and thanked UNEA delegates for making a strong link between healthy environments and healthy people.

Mr Steiner thanked Dr Chan for her “active support in making our organizations come closer together.”

UNEA 2 is taking place during the same week as the WHA in Geneva, Switzerland. Air pollution and its impact on health, the environment and the climate are high on the agenda for both meetings.

World Health Assembly Side Event on Air Pollution and Health.

The WHO, together with the governments of Norway, and Zambia are holding a side event at the Palais de Nations in Geneva today, May 27 @ 18:00 called “Reducing 7 Million Deaths Annually from Air Pollution” which discusses ways reduce air pollution through actions at country, city and household levels.