The Role of Health in International Conferences

I’m sure you have all read about the recent Durban and Rio conferences this past month, and the different perspectives on the numerous side events and meetings we were all able to attend. The role of health is crucial in both the Conference of Parties climate debate, as well as The Rio Earth Summit on Sustainable Development. In Durban, humanitarian aid organizations and non-governmental health organizations have a prominent role. The Red Cross chaired the humanitarian council this year, to tackle these issues and integrate human health impacts into the roll of climate change. There is clear science and research from the IPCC and other independent and university affiliations about the strong correlation between health and climate change, ranging from the rising seas, increasing natural disasters, and correlation to infectious disease. These connections are what prompted our multidisciplinary group of public health and environmental management students (Sophia Colatorio, Lauren Graham, Kanchan Shrestha) to develop a game for the Red Cross, which has been mentioned in numerous previous posts. More about the game here: http://www.humansvsmosquitoes.com.

At Rio, and as seen in the Rio+20 Intersessionals, “public health” is a catch phrase thrown around like others, but little is being done to assure that health plays a roll in the development of countries, and of cities. Perhaps because some developing countries follow the role of the US, they will be disappointed by our lack of leadership in healthcare. One of the side events many FESers attended was the “Sustainable+ Just Cities” event, where Mayor Bloomberg of New York City discussed the various programs New York uses and will continue to implement to lower the carbon footprint of the city and work towards carbon neutrality and energy efficiency. Frances Beinecke, the President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), reiterated many of these efficiency issues, discussing our lack of sustainable transportation in the US and abroad, as well as the inspiring example of the world coming together to rid ourselves of leaded gasoline. As lead is a human toxin, with effects from mild fatigue to brain damage at high levels, it was less a negotiation, and more an absolute necessity to rid it from our air, water, and paint.

As cities such as New York, Mexico City, and Beijing strive to work on the health of their citizens, suddenly the push becomes not a negotiation between developing and developed countries, or a matter of treaties and ratification, but a necessity for the protection of all of us. Health is ultimately a unifier.  Whereas impoverished populations carry an excessive burden of toxics and waste, both the rich and the poor, both the developed and the developing world, must face the consequences of environmental pollution and the degradation of our health. While occasionally these issues exhibit themselves in different ways, it affects us all. While some countries like Japan have the resources to deal with these emerging issues, such as the nuclear facility leak this last year, while other countries must rely on foreign and humanitarian aid, like the drought in the Horn of Africa, we are all impacted. Both the Wall Street executives and the Occupy protestors must walk through and breathe the polluted New York City air. Here’s hoping to more health conversations in future environmental conferences.