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Asian States adopt UN-backed plan to cut millions of deaths due to man-made disasters

Asian States adopt UN-backed plan to cut millions of deaths due to man-made disasters

Top environmental and health officials from South-East and East Asian countries have launched a United Nations-backed effort to reduce the estimated 6.6 million deaths in the continent each year that are attributable to ecological factors such as air pollution, solid and hazardous wastes and numerous man-made disasters.

“The region’s high death toll from environmental degradation can be avoided if we are determined to reverse the current trend,” said Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific Director of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which jointly organized the First Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Bangkok together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“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,” he added.

At the two-day meeting ending yesterday, ministers and senior officials adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Environment and Health, with a regional Charter setting the following priorities 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; and contingency planning, preparedness and response to environmental health emergencies.

“The Bangkok Declaration takes us a firm step forward from monitoring and assessment of sectoral issues towards the prevention of health impacts,” UNEP Regional Director Surendra Shrestha said.

The Declaration provides a mechanism for sharing knowledge and experiences, improve policy and regulatory frameworks at the national and regional level, and promote the implementation of integrated environmental health strategies and regulations.

Over the last 50 years, environmental pollution has intensified due to rapid industrialization, urbanization and motorization, resulting in urban air pollution, the generation of solid and hazardous wastes, and numerous man-made disasters and emergencies, together accounting for some 25 per cent of all deaths in the region.

A Second Ministerial Regional Forum is planned in 2010 to review the progress in implementing the regional Charter.