Saturday, 6 September 2008

Health & the Environment, Africa

African ministers responsible for health and the environment met in Libreville, Gabon, during 26−29 August 2008 for the WHO/UNEP-sponsored First Inter-ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa − Health Security through Healthy Environments. The executive summary of the conference background technical paper Traditional and Current Environmental Risks to Human Health starts off really well:

Unsafe water bodies, poor access to safe drinking water, indoor and outdoor air pollution, unhygienic or unsafe food, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, absent or unsafe vector control, and exposure to chemicals and injuries have been identified as key environmental risks to human health in most countries in Africa. The underlining reasons for this situation include inadequate or flawed policies, weak institutional capacities, shortage of resources, and low general awareness of environment–health linkages among policy makers and in the community. It is suggested that governments re-orient their national policies to foster a greater contribution of environmental management towards public health.

In the Libreville Declaration the ministers reaffirmed their “commitment to implement all conventions and declarations that bear on health and environment linkages” − including the eThekwini Declaration on hygiene and sanitation. However, they recognised that there were “constraints on accelerated implementation of the necessary integrated strategies to protect populations against risks resulting from environmental degradation, including risks related to unsafe water supply, sanitation, air quality, vector-borne diseases, chemicals, waste management, new toxic substances, desertification, industrial and domestic risks, and natural disasters”, but they nonetheless declared that “we African countries commit ourselves to … ensuring integration of agreed objectives in the areas of health and environment in national poverty reduction strategies by implementing priority intersectoral programmes at all levels, aimed at accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”.

All a bit wishy-washy! And WatSan wasn’t even mentioned in the set of Libreville Recommendations! No wonder Sub-Saharan Africa has problems!!