7 April 2003 -- On World Health Day this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for concerted action to protect three of our greatest assets: children, the environment and health.
The biggest threats to children’s health are found in the very places that should be safest – their homes, their schools and their communities. Every year over 5 million children ages 0 to 14 die from diseases directly related to their environments. They die of diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, malaria and other vector-borne diseases which are preventable and treatable.
Unsafe drinking water, poor hygiene and sanitation, air pollution, including from dirty household fuels used for cooking and heating, tobacco smoke, hazardous chemicals and wastes, biting insects and other environmental threats affect the health of children disproportionately. Children under five, who comprise only 10% of the world’s population, bear a disproportionate 40% of the world’s environmental disease burden.
These deaths and overall ill-health can be prevented. We know what to do. Yet despite this knowledge, far too many children continue to suffer physically and psychologically. This is particularly the case in parts of the world affected by conflict.
Since the beginning of the intifada, in September 2000, Palestinian and Israeli children have been exposed to increasingly unhealthy environments. In the subsequent two years, more than 350 Palestinian children and 90 Israeli children have lost their lives as a direct result of the on-going conflict. Many more have been injured: some permanently disabled. Others have suffered the long-term psychological and social impact of traumatic events and deprivation related to conflict situations. Thousands of Palestinian children are affected by the conflict’s environmental consequences, including destruction of basic infrastructure, and shortages of food and water.
Their environments are unsafe and unhealthy because of continuing violence and conflict and its adverse impacts, as well as lack of respect for obligations and safeguards established in human rights interests and international humanitarian law.
WHO’s position is that all concerned must act in a determined manner to safeguard children’s environments at all times. We must pay particular attention to the safety of these environments during conflicts and crises, especially regarding the impact on the health and well-being of children. And on world health day we must commit – with ever greater resolve and collective effort – to ensure “Healthy Environments for Children”. In this way we can help shape the future of life.