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Countries across Europe and central Asia take action to stop 1.4 million preventable deaths every year from climate change and pollution

Countries across Europe and central Asia take action to stop 1.4 million preventable deaths every year from climate change and pollution

Baku, July 6, AZERTAC

Each year, across the 53-country WHO European Region, an estimated 1.4 million deaths are linked to environmental risk factors, such as pollution and climate change. This week, European ministers of environment and health will commit to taking urgent actions to reduce that staggering toll, and safeguarding our survival on this planet, according to World Health Organization.

Countries meeting at the Seventh Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Budapest, 5–7 July, are expected to adopt a declaration with a specific set of actions to better prepare health systems to tackle the impact of climate change, reduce the health effects of pollution, and integrate nature and biodiversity considerations into environment and health policies, which means taking a holistic approach to human, animal and planetary health.

“Preventing well over a million deaths every year due to environmental risk factors is within our grasp, we know what to do, and now is the time to turn words into action,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Everyone has the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Yet the triple environmental crisis – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss – threatens our very existence and that of our planet, our home. The Budapest Declaration offers concrete actions to improve the environments people live in, decrease the disease burden, reduce health inequalities, relieve pressured health systems and enhance our collective resilience to future pandemics.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated environmental and health pressures and health inequalities. A new WHO report – “A healthy environment in the WHO European Region: why it matters and what steps we can take to improve health” – shows that air pollution, unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, climate change and chemical pollution continue to pose a significant threat to health in the Region, with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, including children, women, and elderly people. Environmental risks also contribute to a quarter of all noncommunicable diseases globally, including cancer, along with cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental diseases.

This new report shows the following, in the Region, covering Europe and central Asia.

Every year, there are more than 1.4 million deaths associated with avoidable environmental risks to health. These deaths account for approximately 15% of the burden of disease in the Region.

About 570 000 deaths could be attributed to ambient air pollution, and more than 150 000 deaths to household air pollution in 2019.

About 77 million people lacked access to safely managed drinking water in 2020.

Only last year, at least 20 000 people died from extreme heat in what was the hottest summer ever recorded in Europe.

Green spaces have a protective health effect that can reduce natural-cause mortality by nearly 1%.

In addition, progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to several environmental and health priorities is moving at a very slow pace, putting in doubt whether these goals will be achieved at all. Another new WHO report, “Progress in the WHO European Region towards the SDGs in the context of the Ostrava Declaration on Environment and Health mid-way to 2030”, shows that, in 4 priority areas – air quality, water and sanitation, chemicals and waste, and contaminated sites – progress has actually stagnated. Urgent actions, such as investments in capacities for environment and health, should be prioritized to correct the trajectory towards 2030. As environmental hazards can largely be prevented, this effort can lead to a significant reduction in the burden of disease and enable better health and well-being for all.

“Sustainable Development Goal 3 – on health and well-being – is integral to realizing the SDG Agenda. When health is at risk, everything is at risk. Health is an issue of policy-making, an issue of financing, of scientific progress, of technological advancement, and of how we build trust among ourselves, and how to rebuild our networks of cooperation,” notes Csaba Kőrösi, President of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Budapest Declaration: a key roadmap and new partnerships to achieve commitments

It is against this backdrop that ministers and representatives in the Region are gathered at the Seventh Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Budapest, convened by WHO/Europe in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Government of Hungary is hosting the conference under the patronage of the President of Hungary, Katalin Novák.

“We are living in an age of crises, when governments, professionals and citizens have to deal with health and humanitarian emergencies that often occur at the same time,” said Sándor Pintér, Hungary's Minister of the Interior. “Hungary is committed to joint and forward-looking cooperation, since we can only find solutions to new global problems by thinking together. It is a great pleasure and honour for us to host this important event. Our domestic results are outstanding, so we are happy to share our knowledge and experience. The time for action has arrived, and Hungary will provide the platform for the initial steps in Budapest in the next 3 days. I am confident that by working together we can create a safer and healthier future!”

Ministers at the conference are expected to adopt the Budapest Declaration, which will be submitted for endorsement to the 73rd Regional Committee for Europe, taking place in Astana, Kazakhstan on 24–26 October 2023.

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