This past May, senior representatives from 19 international agencies gathered for a groundbreaking meeting hosted by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy. These forward-thinking changemakers came together to brainstorm how to accomplish an ambitious but definitively achievable goal: to halve death and disability from all types of pollution by 2030. Together, the group set out to define the necessary steps to reduce the largest environmental cause of death and disease on the planet.
The meeting was an international display of commitment to fighting pollution and improving the health of communities. Participants included representatives from the Ministries of Environment of Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Sweden, the Ministry of Health of Kenya, the World Bank, European Commission, World Health Organization, UN Development Program, UN Environment, and UN Industrial Development Organization—as well as several civil society organizations and universities.
Over the course of five days, the group reached several notable conclusions about where to begin. Because pollution-related death and disease is a public health issue, governments need to step up and take the lead in the fight against pollution. This is especially true of governments in low- and middle-income countries who unfortunately face the reality of having a greater burden of pollution. Governments must prioritize pollution prevention and mitigation in national development plans and implement interventions to reduce the economic and health impacts of pollution as soon as possible. Embarking on health and pollution action planning processes is key to enabling countries to identify and fight their biggest, most dangerous pollution problems—that is, those with the greatest impact on human health.
The responsibility for combatting pollution does not rest with national governments alone, but must also be an international endeavor with crucial roles for civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and the donor community.
The group concluded that the responsibility for combatting pollution does not rest with national governments alone, but must also be an international endeavor with crucial roles for civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and the donor community. Donors, in particular, should be called on by governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to provide support to countries to build capacity and implement proven solutions. The global community must also support high-quality scientific research to understand the health impact of different pollutants and the extent of the exposure to pollution by communities worldwide. This data will be instrumental in defining pollution priorities.
The group at the Bellagio Center underscored that GAHP is in a unique position to continue to convene and coordinate stakeholders, advocate for pollution as a whole, and assist countries embarking on health and pollution action planning processes. During the meeting, several exciting developments occurred that will help increase our efficacy in these efforts.
We couldn’t have been more excited to welcome three new GAHP members from the Ministry of Health of Kenya, Clean Air Asia, and the Global Alliance on Clean Cookstoves. Several countries also expressed interest in beginning health and pollution action planning processes and two GAHP sub-committees were established: one for strategic development and the other for pollution action planning. In the very near future, a long-term strategy for GAHP will be developed, and this upcoming December, GAHP and the group from the Bellagio Center meeting will be presenting our recommendations at the next meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA3) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming nature of the problem, the dedication of stakeholders and the commitments previously discussed shaped a hopeful and positive atmosphere at the meeting. It’s clear that significant political will exists to tackle pollution. Many low- and middle-income countries have already started and have been successful at addressing their pollution problems—China has declared a “war on pollution,” the City of Bangkok has implemented air pollution regulations and programs with significant effects, and Peru is tackling its ongoing mining problems with vigor. Furthermore, significant technical knowledge and capacity exist, especially in high- and middle-income countries, and well-known solutions can be replicated.
In short, reducing and managing pollution and protecting human health are not lofty goals, but are imminently do-able in our lifetimes. To ensure success, country governments, international agencies, and civil society must work together and strategically allocate technical and financial resources. The meeting at the Bellagio Center laid the foundation for a plan for halving death and disability due to pollution by 2030 and it’s important to continue building partnerships and strengthening commitments toward this goal.
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