European health-environment summit plans emerge

Countries to adopt agreements on transport, water, at pan-European meeting in June

European ministers for transport, health and the environment are set to sign a charter to reduce the "human health costs of transport" at a conference to be held in the UK in June. Delegates from 51 countries are expected at the third ministerial conference on environment and health organised by the European office of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Countries will also sign a legally binding protocol on water and health.

The transport charter will include principles and an action strategy to reduce the impacts of transport on health. According to the draft text, the EU's currently spends 4.1% of its entire gross domestic product on dealing with health issues linked to transport, including respiratory diseases, stress, cancer, accidents and noise impacts.

The charter will set quantitative targets for air quality, injury, physical activity of the population and noise, to be finalised at preparatory negotiations in March. The charter will not be legally binding, but a spokesperson for the WHO Europe office told ENDS Daily that there was growing support to make the charter into a binding instrument by the time of the next ministerial conference in three years time.

The protocol on water and health covers three main areas: adequate drinking water and sanitation; safe water for agriculture and recreation; and systems for monitoring and managing risks to health. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), which has been involved in drafting it, notes that water-related diseases such as cholera are on the increase in eastern European countries. The EU already has a number of directives relating to water quality and water management, but linking water and health is a new approach, a WHO spokesperson said.

Ministers will also discuss how industry, climate change and local environmental quality affect health. A special session will look at children's health. They will debate progress on national environment and health action plans (NEHAPs), which countries promised to draw up at the last ministerial meeting held three years ago. Ministers will also discuss the health policy implications of the pan-European convention on public participation in environmental decision-making (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998). One suggestion is to set up a European daily data-bank on air emissions.

For the first time in the WHO environment and health process, NGOs are to be invited to take part in the conference. They will also organise the Healthy Planet Forum, which will run in parallel to it. ANPED, the Northern Alliance for Sustainability, is organising a meeting for NGOs this weekend in order to prepare their position for the ministerial conference. According to a spokesperson, NGOs are disappointed that food and health issues such as genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are not on the agenda. However, NGOs are agreed that the "cross-sectoral approach to health and the environment" could bring "positive results," she continued.

Follow Up:
WHO Europe, tel: +45 39 17 13 44. References: Draft documents for the conference can be downloaded from: London Conference.

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