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World Health Day 2008 Highlights Adaptation to Climate Change Effects

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Belize City, April 7, 2008 — The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Public Utilities Commission, and the Belize Audubon Society, today hosted a World Health Day 2008 Symposium with the theme: “Protecting Health from Climate Change”.

The purpose was to catalyze public participation in the global campaign to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change, and the objectives were to:

1. Raise awareness of the links between climate change and health and other development areas such as environment, food, energy, and transport, and

2. Involve a wide spectrum of partners in the discussion of climate change and necessary interventions.

World Health Day marks the founding of the WHO and is an opportunity to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health each year. This year World Health Day celebrated the 60 th anniversary of WHO and focused on the need to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change. Belize recognizes that although the country's contribution to climate change is minimal, it is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects. With ever-growing threats to global public health security, a call is being made to the Government and its partners to ensure that adequate adaptation action is taken, with mitigation to the extent possible.

The Symposium was well attended, with approximately 80 participants from various sectors, including students and teachers from several secondary schools.

Key remarks were given by Hon. Gaspar Vega, Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health, and Dr. Beverley Barnett, PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize .

Three technical presentations followed, addressing climate change and national initiatives in Belize; the cost of not responding to climate change; and the impact of climate change on health. During subsequent discussion, it was noted that Belize has a draft Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which can provide a good framework for progress in this area. It was also emphasized that the effects of climate change are inequitable, since though the poorer and more vulnerable countries generally produce less greenhouse gases than the developed countries, they are subject to greater impact and have fewer resources to undertake mitigation and adaptation.

The National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) provided for in the Adaptation Policy already exists, and the Policy names the Chief Meteorological Officer as the focal point for Climate Change. The National Meteorological Service (NMS) has already conducted studies to demonstrate and document the effects of climate change in Belize. Thus, although Belize is a small nation, relevant expertise exists in the country. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Center is located here and its Director and Deputy Director are Belizean.

The following are recommendations resulting from the plenary discussions:

•  Strengthen the human resource capacity of the NMS by hiring additional staff to allow the local experts to focus more on climate change, rather than on operational issues.

•  Take immediate steps to review, reassess, and update the draft Climate Change Adaptation Policy to identify areas that are still applicable and to make modifications as required; ensure that equity is an underlying principle of the Policy and its implementation.

•  Ensure that the Climate Change Adaptation Policy is finalized and presented to Cabinet for approval.

•  Ensure that all sectors participate in the NCCC, and in the implementation of the Adaptation Policy and relevant sector policies.

•  Develop and put in place mechanisms and/or interventions to ensure more efficient use of the country's natural resources. This includes better management of water resources and the application of improved agricultural practices to enhance food security.

•  Develop policies to protect vulnerable communities, e.g. housing policies that would prevent the exposure of communities or villages to flood hazards.

•  Develop and implement information, education, and communication programs to keep relevant audiences abreast of climate change, adaptation actions, and mitigation measures.

The Symposium closed with the Minister of Health and the PAHO/WHO Belize Representative signing a Special Agreement between their respective agencies for an extension of MOH human resources assigned to the PAHO/WHO country office, and remarks from the UNDP Assistant Resident Representative, Mr. Joseph Hendrikx. An essay competition was launched under the theme “Solutions for Climate Change”; entries must be submitted to MOH/HECOPAB or PAHO/WHO Belize no later than April 17, 2008. Winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

The commemorative activities will continue with the launching of a one-minute climate change documentary to be aired on television stations for a period of two weeks, commencing today.

The Pan American Health Organization, which is the Regional Office of the World Health Organization, was founded in 1902, and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. The PAHO/WHO Country Office in Belize was established in the 1950s.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 January 2009 12:12

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