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Saturday, April 12, 2003

Unfortunately, World Health Day (April 7th) - which this year had the theme of "Healthy Environments for Children" - wasn't able to compete with the storming of Bagdhad in terms of news coverage...

Therefore, although Earth-Info.Net doesn't normally post long stories we feel that the following open letters from Kofi Annan + Gro Harlem Brundtland both deserve to be (belatedly!) posted in their entirety...

Kofi Annan's message reads:

"Healthy children are crucial to sustainable development. That is why this year's World Health Day carries the theme Shape the Future of Life: Healthy Environment for Children .

A child’s world is centred around the home, the school and the local community. These should be places where children can play, thrive and develop, and where they are protected from disease. But in reality, these are often places where children -- particularly children in poverty -- face multiple threats to their health. Common risks include unsafe drinking water, air pollution, poor housing, lack of hygiene and sanitation, as well as inadequate waste disposal.

Children are more vulnerable than adults to environmental hazards. Their capacity to absorb health hazards is still developing, and thus they are more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals and to germs as well as other pollutants. They are also more exposed to such risks, because they consume more food, air and water than adults do in proportion to their body weight -- and because they possess more natural curiosity but less knowledge and experience.

The only sustainable response is to make sure that children can live, learn and play in safe environments. This will not only save many lives; it will have positive consequences for economic development. It will prevent many children from being taken out of school due to chronic disease, and thus help society as a whole build the skill-base it needs for economic growth.

That means we must build on the momentum generated by the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, inaugurated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to mobilize knowledge, political will and resources for the reduction of environmental risks to children’s health. And it means recognizing that children are our future -- and that a future of sustainable development begins with safeguarding the health of every child. On this World Health Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission."

Gro Harlem Brundtland's message reads:

"Friends and Colleagues,

We are here today, on World Health Day, to stress our commitment to protecting three of our greatest assets: health, the environment and children. The three are inter-linked. Ensuring Healthy Environments for Children - the theme of this year's World Health Day - is vital to our efforts to help shape the future of life.

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, injuries, and other environmental threats in and around their homes.

Unsafe water, poor hygiene and sanitation, air pollution, including from dirty household fuels used for cooking and heating, tobacco smoke, hazardous chemicals and other environmental threats affect the health of children disproportionately.

The deaths and overall ill-health can be prevented. We know what to do. We have developed strategies to combat these environmental risks to children’s health. They need to be implemented on a global and national scale, and at the household and community level.

In September 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, we inaugurated the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance. We are now working with different groups around the world, developing a vibrant movement capable of mobilizing worldwide support and intervening to make children’s lives healthier where they live, learn and play. By working together on many fronts, by building on existing programmes, and by adapting concrete actions to local needs, we can make a real difference. Together, we are better able to address the many health and environment issues faced by communities, countries and regions all around the world.

I urge everyone to look around and think about what they can do to help so that every child grows up in a healthy home, school and community. And then, take action. The future development of our children depends on our action today.

Thank you.