By Bae Ji-sook
JEJU ㅡ Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee and Environment Minister Lee Maan-ee Thursday urged their counterparts from 13 other Asian countries to take joint action against environmental and health issues sweeping the globe.
At the 2nd Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries held in the southern island of Jeju, Minister Jeon stressed that environmental and health issues should be tackled by the global community through close coordination.
"The World Health Organization reported that 24 percent of all diseases and 23 percent of deaths in the world are attributable to environmental factors. They are known to be responsible for 36 percent of the deaths of children, which speaks volumes about the necessity to protect vulnerable groups," she said.
"Recently, concerns are mounting over various health damage from climate change. We are already seeing heat waves or other meteorological disasters kill an increasing number of people in many nations. The shortage of food or drought is worsening hunger and malnutrition in certain areas. Air pollution continues to deteriorate, increasing respiratory and allergic illnesses," she said.
"Strengthening environmental health policies, cooperation between environment and health sectors and between countries is crucial to effectively achieving health-related Millennium Development Goals, aimed at reducing infants and child mortality, improving maternal health and combating infectious diseases such as malaria."
The ministers suggested creating an "environmental health capacity-building program" to foster environmental health experts who can tackle health issues caused by the environmental damage. They also sought to deliver their own experience of building a preemptive and preventive response system and budget 500 million won a year for a three-year run.
At the two-day forum that ended on Friday, the ministers agreed to establish a transnational task force to tackle air quality, water, sanitation and hygiene, solid and hazardous waste, toxic chemicals and hazardous substances, climate change, ozone depletion and ecosystem change, as well as contingency planning and readiness and response to environmental health emergencies.
They also announced the Jeju Declaration on the Environment and Health. They agreed on the need to cooperate in sharing good examples and technologies from a global and regional perspective. It is also essential to pursue international cooperation to strengthen the national capacity for environmental health management, they said.
The member states will form a health impact analysis team to evaluate the effect of various environmental backdrops affecting human health.
"The declaration will cement Korea's global status as a 'Green country,'" Jeon told reporters.
The meeting was the second of its kind following the first one in Bangkok in 2007 to discuss sustainable development and assure a healthy future for the next generation.
The participants in Thursday's meeting were ministers from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and 200 other delegates.