Stop kidding

Europe sidelines children's well-being at a mega health meet

By Sarita Bahl
Published: Saturday 31 July 2004

The World Health Organization's fourth European ministerial conference held in Hungary from June 23-25, 2004, failed to identify with its theme -- 'The future for our children'. Three leading organisations -- the Friends of Earth, European Environmental Bureau and Greenpeace -- lamented that no clear measurable targets were set by the ministers to ensure healthier environs for children, thereby defeating the purpose of the gathering.

The meet was the fourth in a series of conferences aimed at bringing together ministers from 52 European countries to discuss health and environmental issues. Children were the focus of the latest meet as there has been a dramatic increase in the number of diseases inflicting them. As per a recent study, 'The Environmental Burden of Disease', every third child death in Europe is due to environmental factors such as air pollution.

Under the proposed European environment and health action plan 2004-2010, two policy documents -- the Ministerial Declaration and the Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe -- were prepared to be approved during the conference. But both of them failed to address the ambitious aim of protecting children, experts asserted. "The policy measures does not mention any legislative action against the use of hazardous chemicals -- one of the major environmental threats that children face today," said Karine Pellaumail, chemicals campaigner of the Friends of the Earth.

The critics lamented that the conference missed the opportunity to set forth indicators and monitors for the harmful chemicals. "The European Commission prefers to listen to self-interested stories of the chemical industry rather than propose constructive action," asserts Stefan Scheuer, coordinator of water and chemical policy, the European Environmental Bureau. The experts concluded by saying that the children need firm action to protect their health, rather than research.

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