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UNEP/WHO team up to improve environmental health

Arendal/Nairobi, 20 August 1999 - Pooling their strengths and coordinating their efforts to combat the increasing threat of environmentally linked diseases, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the field of Environmental Health.

UNEP's Executive Director, Mr. Klaus Toepfer and Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director- General of WHO signed the MOU in Arendal, Norway on 23 August 1999.

The MOU between the two sister organizations cements their already long-standing cooperation through a series of joint efforts in the field of monitoring and assessment of air, water and food contamination by physical, chemical and biological agents; environmentally sound management of chemicals; and environmental and health impacts of global environmental change.

Currently, infectious diseases cause approximately 37 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Additionally, it has been calculated that an estimated 40 per cent of deaths can be attributed to various environmental factors, especially organic and chemical pollutants. 1.3 billion humans live in absolute poverty and 2.5 million infants and children die each year from diarrhoea which is caused by contaminated water and food.

Klaus Toepfer said that "the partnership between the two bodies dealing with increasingly crucial issues is heartening evidence of a new era of inter-agency cooperation ushered in by United Nations reform."

"We face formidable challenges to health and the environment on a global basis", said Dr. Brundtland. "WHO and UNEP working together can make real contribution to securing Our Common Future with healthy lives for peoples all over the world", she said.

The agreement will open up for cooperation in areas including climate change and health, global surveillance of environmentally caused diseases, environmental health of the people in the Arctic region, environmental emergencies and health and environmental effects of transport.

The two agencies will also work together to make health and environmental assessment of proposed policies and programmes, to evaluate the relationship between health, environment, development and economics and to integrate both health and environmental issues into national economic policies, legislation and management.

In addition, cooperation in a number of fields will be strengthened, such as screening of chemicals before they reach the market, programmes that improve water quality, and research on the effect of climate change on human health.

WHO and UNEP will strive to foster intersectoral cooperation at the local, national, regional and international levels to promote environmental health.



For more information, please contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692; Email: or Gregory Hartl, Public Relations, World Health Organization, 20, Avenue Appia, CH-1211, Geneva 27. Tel.: +41 22 791-4458; Fax: 791-4858; Email: or All WHO Press releases, fact sheets and features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page

UNEP News Release 1999/86

Monday 23 Aug 1999
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