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More efforts needed to protect people from exposure to toxic substances – UN expert urges WHO

GENEVA (20 May 2015) – “Far more effort and resources should be devoted worldwide to protect people from the negative health impacts of toxic pollution,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, said today.

Mr. Tuncak’s call comes as the governing body of World Health Organization (WHO) meets in Geneva from 18 to 26 May. The World Health Assembly (WHA) defines the organization’s policies, supervises its financial strategies, and reviews and approves its proposed programme budget.

“WHO can play a much larger, more active role in preventing adverse health effects from pollution,” Mr. Tuncak stressed. “A tiny fraction of WHO’s proposed budget for the next two years is for environmental health, despite clear evidence of large-scale harm today and the likelihood of increased harm in the coming years.”

An estimated 13 million deaths per year and about one quarter of global burden of disease, namely, the impact of health problems, are caused by environmental determinants of health such as pollution of air, water, land and others. Pollution is the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries and poor women and children who live and work in the world’s most polluted environments are most affected.

Stressing the disproportionate effect that environmental pollution has on children and the future generations, the Special Rapporteur reminded WHO Member States that “nearly all countries have a legal obligation to realize the right of children to the highest attainable standard of health.”

Mr. Tuncak noted that a sharp acceleration of pollution around the world is expected in the coming years, according to the UN Environment Programme 2012 Global Chemicals Outlook and other reports. In 2014, the UN Environment Assembly invited WHO to increase staff and other resources to better protect people from environmental threats to human health.

“However,” the rights expert said, “despite increasing risk of negative health impacts from pollution, and global calls for increased resources, only 2.5% of WHO’s proposed program budget for 2016-2017 is dedicated to ‘Health and Environment’ sub-category.”

“The amount of work WHO dedicates to monitoring and preventing harm from toxic pollution is disproportionately low, given the impacts of pollution on human rights,” the Special Rapporteur warned.

Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For enquiries and media requests, please contact Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 9325 /s hwang@ohchr.org) or Ahreum Lee (+41 22 917 9391/ ahreumlee@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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