This article was adapted from a WHO media release.
A new World Health Organization (WHO) Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region* will open this year in Seoul, the global health body announced recently.
According to the WHO, the centre is set to address the health impacts of air pollution and energy policy, help build climate-resilient health systems and healthy and safe transport systems, and tackle chemical safety, environmental noise, water, sanitation, hygiene and wastewater, in the 37 countries in its regional grouping.
WHO’s Western Pacific Region includes small island developing states, China, Japan, Hong Kong (SAR) and a number of Southeast Asian nations.
“Environmental pollution and climate change are among the greatest threats to health in our Region. With the establishment of the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region, we will be able to step up our support to countries so that they can better protect people’s health. Having the Centre in Seoul will offer mutual benefits to WHO and the Government of Korea and City of Seoul,” said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shin Young-soo.
Rapid changes in the Region’s physical and social environment are having a major impact on health. Known, avoidable environmental risk factors cause at least 3.5 million deaths each year and account for around a quarter of the burden of disease in the Western Pacific.
“Air pollution kills 2.2 million people in our Region every year—mostly from stroke, heart disease and lung diseases—and climate change poses a range of health threats, from deaths due to extreme high temperatures, to outbreaks of waterborne and vector-borne diseases and food insecurity. This is why the establishment of the Centre is so important for WHO’s work,” said Director of Programme Management for WHO in the Western Pacific Region, Takeshi Kasai.
The Centre’s work
The Centre will work towards WHO’s targets across three key areas, in line with relevant Sustainable Development Goals:
• Air quality, energy and health— it will address the health impact of air pollution and energy policy, focusing on transboundary air pollution including haze in South-East Asia and dust and sandstorms in North-East Asia, in line with the target of reducing deaths from air pollution by 5 per cent by 2023.
• Climate change and health— it will help build climate-resilient health systems in vulnerable countries and areas, including Pacific islands, to support achievement of the target of reducing deaths from climate-sensitive diseases by 10 per cent by 2023.
• Water and the living environment— it will address chemical safety, healthy and safe transport, environmental noise, water, sanitation, hygiene and wastewater to reduce the burden of environmental diseases and injuries and increase access to safely-managed drinking water and sanitation.
The agreement to open the Centre was signed in January by Shin Young-soo, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Korea Cho Myung-rae and Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon. The Centre will foster healthier and safer environments and strengthen community resilience to climate and environmental change in the WHO Western Pacific Region.
“I have worked with WHO for many years and long been committed to making cities healthier. I’m delighted now to provide a home for WHO in Seoul. Above all else, Seoul’s citizens value the beautiful natural environment surrounding our city—its waterways, mountains, green fields and clean air. We must do everything we can to protect them and the health of our citizens. We will do our best to ensure the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region becomes a regional centre of excellence in the field of environment and health,” said Mayor Park Won-soon.
The announcement comes as Seoul, a BreatheLife city, battles high levels of seasonal pollution from a mixture of domestic and transboundary sources, alongside several other cities in Asia. Seoul has years of experience in pollution control and urban renewal— the results of which have been recognized and lauded by its peers.
The Centre will be a key instrument to implement WHO’s general programme of work for 2019–2023, which identifies the health impacts of climate and environmental change as a top priority. It will also support the objectives of the Western Pacific Regional Framework for Action on Health and Environment on a Changing Planet endorsed by Member States in 2016, as well as the Declarations on Environment and Health from the Regional Ministerial Forums held in Jeju in 2010, Kuala Lumpur in 2013 and Manila in 2016.
A strong partnership in health
The Republic of Korea and WHO have been collaborating for more than 70 years in almost all areas of public health. During this period, the Republic of Korea has evolved from an aid recipient to now being a major contributor to global health and environment work. The establishment of the Centre in Seoul is a testimony to and builds on this partnership.
“The Korean Government is hosting the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region to protect the population’s health from environmental hazards such as fine dust, hazardous chemicals and climate change. The Ministry of Environment will give strong support to ensure the WHO Centre contributes to improving environmental health policies in the Region, like the WHO Bonn Centre has done for European countries, with the development of WHO guidelines on air quality,” said Minister Cho Myung-rae.
* The 37 countries and areas of the WHO Western Pacific Region are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, France (which has responsibility for French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna), Hong Kong SAR (China), Japan, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Macao SAR (China), Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mongolia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (which has responsibility for Pitcairn Islands), the United States of America (which has responsibility for American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Vanuatu and Viet Nam.
Read the media release from the World Health Organization here: New WHO Asia-Pacific centre for environment and health to open in Seoul
Read about the 25 clean air measures for Asia and the Pacific here.
Banner photo from the World Health Organization