African health and environment ministers met in Libreville, Gabon, August 26-29 to confront growing environmental threats to human health and well-being. The Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa was organized by the World Health Organization, the W-H-O, and the United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP. The government of Gabon hosted the four-day meeting. The participants included health ministers, environment ministers, high-level experts, academics, policymakers and representatives from non-governmental organizations.
According to the W-H-O, in 2002 alone, unsafe water, pollution, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, insufficient disease-carrying organism control and exposure to chemicals and other environmental health risk factors claimed some 2,400,000 lives in Africa.
African nations face development challenges such as weak health systems, lack of access to safe drinking water and safe hygiene and sanitation, poorly designed irrigation and water systems, inadequate housing and poor waste disposal and water storage.
"While our knowledge has been increasing about how ecosystems and species and the quality of the environment relate to human health," said Angela Cropper, deputy executive director of UNEP, "there is a lag in concerted policy and action to address this relationship." Bringing together ministers of environment and health at the Libreville conference, she said, "is an opportunity to lay the basis for doing so in and on behalf of the continent of Africa."
The conference delegates adopted the Libreville Declaration, an agreement that commits governments to implementing measures that will stimulate the policy, institutional and investment changes needed to optimize interactions among health, environment and other sectors. The Declaration urges member states to take a number of steps including updating national, sub-regional and regional frameworks to address more effectively the links between health and environment. The members are also urged to implement priority programs by government, business, and civil society at all levels in health and environment to speed up achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which include reducing poverty and child mortality rates and fighting epidemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
The U.S. supports the commitments in the goals of the Libreville Declaration and is providing assistance to 47 African nations to help foster African development, including protection of Africa's environment and the health of the peoples of Africa.