World Environment Day: health is intrinsically linked to the environment

Chelsea Hedquist

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day – “Connecting people to nature” – implores citizens of the world to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and importance, and to protect the Earth that we share. On this day, celebrated every 5 June since 1972, WHO reminds decision-makers and citizens that health is intrinsically linked to the environment.

Globally, an estimated 24% of the burden of disease and 23% of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors. Air and water pollution, hazardous chemicals, waste, climate change – these are among the factors that not only harm the environment but can also lead to serious health problems. On the contrary, interventions to protect and preserve the environment can directly improve health.

Europe’s decades-long commitment to preserving the environment to protect health

In the late 1980s, European countries initiated the European Environment and Health Process (EHP), the first-ever process to eliminate the most significant environmental threats to human health. Since that time, a series of ministerial conferences held every 5 years and coordinated by WHO/Europe has driven progress towards this goal. The conferences are unique, bringing together different sectors to shape European policies and actions on environment and health.

The most recent conference took place in Parma, Italy, in 2010. The resulting Parma Declaration is the first time-bound outcome of the EHP. Governments of the 53 European Member States set clear targets to reduce the adverse health impact of environmental threats in the next decade.

At the upcoming 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, taking place on 13–15 June in Ostrava, Czechia, participants will consider new evidence demonstrating that preserving the environment is essential to the survival of humankind. They will also recognize the cross-border nature of environmental challenges; the necessity of focusing actions not only at the national level but also at subnational and city levels; the importance of identifying those most vulnerable to environmental challenges; and the need for good governance, which includes involving stakeholders and citizens. Participants will include health and environment ministers and high-level representatives of WHO European Member States, partner organizations, academia and civil society.

Follow and join the social media conversation in Ostrava by using #EuropeEnvHealth.