7 April 2003 In a message marking World Health Day, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the international community to guarantee the health of every child as the starting point to achieve sustainable development.
“Healthy children are crucial to sustainable development,” Mr. Annan said. “That is why this year's World Health Day carries the theme ‘Shape the Future of Life: Healthy Environment for Children’.”
He stressed that a child’s world was centred around the home, the school and the local community, places where children should be able to play, thrive and develop, and be protected from disease.
“But in reality, these are often places where children – particularly children in poverty – face multiple threats to their health,” he said, noting the common risks of unsafe drinking water, air pollution, poor housing, lack of hygiene and sanitation, as well as inadequate waste disposal.
“The only sustainable response is to make sure that children can live, learn and play in safe environments,” he declared. “This will not only save many lives; it will have positive consequences for economic development. It will prevent many children from being taken out of school due to chronic disease, and thus, help society as a whole build the skill-base it needs for economic growth.”
That meant recognizing that “children are our future – and that a future of sustainable development begins with safeguarding the health of every child,” he concluded. “On this World Health Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission.”
For his part, the President of the General Assembly, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, noted that 5 million children between birth and 14 years of age die annually, mainly in the developing world, from avoidable environmental hazards. “These are appalling statistics, because most of these deaths are regarded as preventable,” he said. “The dire situation facing children in unhealthy environments is intimately linked with issues such as poverty, lack of adequate nutrition, education and poor sanitary conditions.”
Underlining the priority these issues have within the UN Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Kavan declared: “It is obvious that affording children at least the minimum in environmental standards is necessary to empower them for their future. As such, I believe it is imperative that we continue to push for measures at all levels of society that alleviate these worsening conditions.”