|Health and Environment in Sustainable Development - Five years after the Earth Summit (WHO, 1997, 258 pages)|
The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stressed that development is about meeting the needs of people, their health, their well-being, their lives and the environment on which they depend. The basic human need for a safe environment - one which provides clean water, and adequate food and shelter, and in which different people can live together in peace - is the same for all of us. Five years have passed since the Earth Summit and numerous initiatives have been launched at local, national and global level to highlight the need for health-and-environment action. So it is timely to start the analysis of how we are doing as a community of peoples in terms of meeting this need, how development can provide resources for health protection, but also how such development can threaten health through degradation of natural resources. This analysis should highlight problems, but also give examples of solutions that will bring us closer to sustainable development. The dreams and aspirations of a healthy future for the next generation can be accomplished only if we use our current knowledge wisely and take action in solidarity.
This book focuses on the health of girls and boys, women and men, many of whom are struggling to survive and live an acceptable life in a hostile environment. Each day the world has to accommodate yet more people. On average three persons are added to the global population each second, which translates into an average of 90 million more people every year. Population growth in itself creates great difficulties in providing the water, food and shelter that are required for health, especially since most population growth takes place in developing countries where resources are already insufficient. Moreover, unsustainable consumption in the most affluent countries means that the world's non-renewable resources are becoming rapidly depleted. Thus the life-supporting global environment is increasingly subject to stresses such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, desertification and deforestation. The call for sustainable development at the Earth Summit drew the world's attention to environmental issues such as these that are of profound importance for the health of this generation and future generations.
It has probably taken you about two minutes to read this section from the beginning. While you were doing so, 260 girls were born and 264 boys, most of them in developing countries. Those fortunate enough to have been born in developed countries can expect to enjoy a healthy childhood and to live for more than 70 years. But many of those born in developing countries will suffer from a variety of childhood diseases and will not live to see even their fifth birthday. Within each country, the poor and underprivileged are also experiencing the worst health conditions. Inequities of this kind must be addressed by communities and governments, both at local and national level.
Health professionals must press for adequate programmes and resources, join forces with their counterparts in the environmental sector, and establish health-and-environment concerns as a prime element in sustainable development programmes. On a broader basis, wide participation on the part of all sectors in the community must be ensured if solutions and strategies that achieve sustained improvements in health are to be formulated and implemented. Furthermore, to secure the greatest gains, the current and future needs of people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, must be focused upon. By describing environmental health problems around the world, and some potential solutions for them, this book offers ways to protect and maintain health for the benefit of all.
Hiroshi Nakajima, M.D., Ph.D
World Health Organization