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15 January 2005 | Printer friendly

NGO report on the first EEHC meeting , January 2005

Report written by Genon K. Jensen, Director of European Public Health Alliance Environment Network (EEN) on behalf of the European Public Health Alliance.

The French Ministry of Health hosted the first meeting of the reconstituted European Environment and Health Committee (EEHC) on 26-27 January, 2005.

The EEHC, a unique body comprised of representatives of health and environment ministries, and of intergovernmental and civil society organisations, has the task of ensuring that countries begin implementing the commitments made at the Budapest Ministerial Conference in June 2004 to reduce children’s exposure to environmental hazards.

The main issues covered in the meeting were:
- role, work plan and financing of the EEHC
- decision to have 2 youth representatives on the EEHC
- setting up of a CEHAPE Task Force

The next meeting will be hosted by the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen 1-2 June, 2005.

All background papers can be found at the EEHC website

Composition of EEHC

Members of the EEHC include ten member states: five from health ministries (Armenia, Bulgaria, France, Norway and Russia) and five from environment ministries (Austria, Finland, Georgia, Italy and Serbia-Montenegro) as well as representatives from the European Commission and IGOs (UN-ECE, OECD, UNEP, EEA, REC and WHO). The civil society stakeholder representatives are: ICFTU (trade unions); World Council for Sustainable Business (industry) and two NGOs mandated from the health (European Public Health Alliance) and from environment (European ECO Forum) communities.

The EEHC officers were elected as follows: CHAIR, Professor W. Dab, Director General of the French Health Ministry; VICE-CHAIR Dr Zaal Lomtadze, Deputy Minister of the Georgian Environment.

WHO European Regional Office provides the secretariat to the EEHC.

Role and tasks of EEHC

Following discussions, the draft “rules of procedure” and a “terms of reference” were revised and adopted by the EEHC. EEHC’s main role will be to oversee and support Member States efforts to put measures in place to improve environmental hazards that have an impact on health, and to bring forward a set of national actions and targets by 2007 that cover the commitments agreed on in the Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan (CEHAP).

The EEHC will use the environment and health focal point in each of the 52 member states to share information and best practice; provide training and technical support; and receive reports on how national implementation is progressing. It will also oversee the development of the mid-term inter ministerial meeting (2007) and the next Environment and Health Ministerial Conference (2009, Italy).

On behalf of the European Public Health Alliance and the EPHA Environment Network, I mentioned that one of our EEN’s deliverables in 2005 is to create a CEHAPE implementation website with contact information for national governmental agencies, NGOs, youth representatives and other stakeholders for each of the 52 countries. It would also provide news on consultation opportunities to develop national CEHAPs.

ACTION: If you have not already, please take a moment and fill in your organisations details in the on-line NGO Directory which we will use to create contacts for the CEHAPE implementation website at http://ngo.epha.org/

EEHC Work Plan 2005-2006

Following a session on brainstorming and discussions on how to better involve member states and other stakeholders in the work of the EEHC, and stimulate more exchange of best practice on what works, as well as media coverage, it was decided to adopt a new format for future EEHC meetings.

Instead of only reporting on all of the decisions and processes around the implementation of the Budapest Declaration and the CEHAPE, future meetings will also focus on one of the four regional priorities contained in the CEHAPE. This will facilitate more intense discussion and exchange of good practice and possible solutions to challenges faced by countries in attempting to tackle the four goals. It will also enable for a more effective communication strategy at national and international level by focusing on one topic at a time.

This option was strongly supported by both EPHA and ECO-Forum as it will enable us to contribute more specific expertise from membership organisations and case studies addressing these issues.

Provisional schedule:

  1. June 2005: Prevent and reduce respiratory disease due to outdoor and indoor air pollution (RPG III)
  2. November/December 2005: Reduce disease and disability from exposure to hazardous chemicals (such as heavy metals), physical agents (noise) and biological agents (RPG IV).
  3. June 2006: Reduce accidents and injuries, as well as health effects from lack of physical activity by promoting safe, secure human settlements (RPG II)
  4. November/December 2006: Reduce gastrointestinal disorders by improving access to safe water (RPG 1)

ACTION: If you are working on respiratory diseases such as asthma or projects to improve outdoor or indoor air quality, please let me know as we will be proposing speakers and projects to be featured in the June EEHC meeting.

Establishment of a CEHAPE Task Force

A great deal of debate and discussion was held on how best to set up a CEHAPE task force, which is one of the measures called for by ministers (CEHAPE, para 28) to ensure “adequate follow-up mechanism to the CEHAPE”. In the CEHAPE Declaration, the EEHC was invited to establish the “CEHAPE task force with participation of Member States, international organizations and NGOs” to stimulate implementation, “with particular attention paid to the sharing of best practices and dissemination of information and experience among Member States.”

This task force will encompass a larger set of member states than the EEHC, and much discussion revolved around what type of support the task force would provide (technical, scientific, et); how to best structure the work required (meetings or electronic format); the actual terms of reference for CEHAPE task force members; and how to best avoid duplication of efforts between the task force members and EEHC members.

A term of reference was finalised and Austria agreed to take the lead in organising the first CEHAPE task force meeting in the next months. Finland and Norway also agreed to actively take a role in this work. An invitation to join the CEHAPE task force will be sent by the EEHC secretariat to all national contacts points and IGOs, NGOs represented on the EEHC. The task force will probably meet once a year (perhaps in conjunction with the EEHC) except for 2005, where it was proposed to meet twice to set up the group and agree on a detailed work plan.

ACTION: EPHA Environment Network is calling for nominations to represent the health community on this task force. If you are interested, please let me know. Please note that at this time, it does not appear that travel or accommodation expenses will be reimbursed.

Youth representation

A very good background paper on the benefits of youth participation, and proposals for developing a future European youth structure on environment and health was presented by representatives from the Irish government and a youth representative who had participated and presented the Youth Declaration at the Budapest Conference. The Irish government has had a very positive experience in developing youth representation in local councils, which has led to greater voter turn out and involvement in the political process.

Several options were presented to develop youth participation which also gave indications of the financial and personnel costs. To get the process rolling, Ireland has committed to hosting a first meeting in 2005 with representatives from national youth organisations from countries who are interested to further discuss the most effective and participatory mechanism to provide youth representatives to the EEHC, and to elect two representatives. Finland, Austria and Norway committed to bringing representatives to such a meeting. The Norwegian delegation had also brought a youth delegate who gave a short intervention.

Several times during the meeting, Norway also volunteered to provide support (financial and technical) to Eastern European/ECCA countries to increase participation in the implementation process.

It was recognised at the meeting that every country was at a different level in relation to youth participation. For instance, France supports the concept but does not currently have structures in place for youth participation, whereas other countries are more wary to the benefits (and costs) of youth participation, while still others have already established participation mechanisms. It was agreed by the EEHC that two youth representatives should join the EEHC, following the launch meeting in Ireland.

EPHA Environment Network, as well as ECO Forum, supported the proposal to have two, rather than one, youth representative, and spoke about the positive benefits from its own experience in the project, It’s our world, our future too: Young people’s voices on Environment and Health priorities, and its intention to devote a specific section of the CEHAPE implementation website to youth participation in various countries.

ACTION: If you are working at national level and have positive examples of youth participation in environment and health policy-making, please let me know as the Irish government will continue to gather examples and revise its overview paper.

Other information

WHO has completed a Handbook on Developing National Children’s Action Plans, which is also being translated into Russian to help governments get started. For more information, contact the EEHC secretariat.

WHO is also providing training to national governments on creating national action plans.

French developments

Since launching its first national and environment action plan in October 2004 with 45 measures, the French government has prioritised many studies and projects, particularly in relation to housing and health. For example, they have carried out a research project looking at the indoor air quality in 700 schools across France and have found that the majority do not meet standards, due to poor ventilation among other things. They are also carrying out a biomonitoring project with 100,000 people who live in the proximity of incineration plants to look dioxin levels (this does not include children). Lastly, they are developing a guide on building or renovating schools with ecological materials and structures to make them healthier.

- EEHC Press Release


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