COPENHAGEN and PARMA, Italy, March 10, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Representatives of 53 Member States from the WHO European Region will gather in Parma, Italy, on 10-12 March 2010 to review the impact of national and cross-border environmental policies on the health status of their populations.

The event will bring together over 800 participants from countries across the European Region, including ministers of health and of the environment, representatives of the European Commission, intergovernmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, scientists and youth delegates.

Governments are expected to adopt a declaration reinforcing their commitment to reducing major environmental risk factors (including unsafe water and sanitation, contaminated air and dangerous chemicals) and emerging global threats (such as climate change). The declaration, to be signed on 12 March 2010, will commit governments to achieve clear goals in the next 10 years.

Working together and across sectors on tackling environmental hazards has delivered tangible results on the wider European continent during the last twenty years, says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, the new WHO Regional Director for Europe. However, climate change, the global financial crisis and growing inequalities are putting a huge burden on national governments, making it more important than ever to agree a new way forward.

Two new WHO reports highlight progress and gaps in environmental health

For the Conference, the WHO Regional Office for Europe has released two new studies.

The first, Health and environment in Europe: progress assessment, reveals that mortality rates from diarrhoeal diseases among young children have been cut to 20% of previous levels in recent years, largely through improved access to clean water and sanitation, and that traffic-related deaths have fallen by 40% since the early 1990s. After a switch to unleaded petrol across most of the Region, and a subsequent 90% cut in lead emissions, lead levels in children's blood also dropped.

The second, WHO's largest compilation of evidence on inequalities in environmental risk across Europe, published in the European Journal of Public Health, points to significant variations within countries, and even cities, in the social distribution of environmental exposure and related deaths and disease. Vulnerable segments of society can be significantly more exposed to avoidable environmental hazards, in some cases over twice as much as their wealthier peers, in all countries in the European Region.

Way forward: more powerful legislation needed

Across the European Region, many successful initiatives have been launched in the last decade to reduce environmental risks. The EU has introduced new regulations on air quality and the safe use of chemicals (REACH), providing direction that is being followed by many other countries across the wider European continent. In countries outside the EU, governments have created or updated more than 50% of their legislation on environment and health during the last five years.

Nevertheless, government policies on different environmental issues and health considerations vary significantly in scope and ambition. While governments have designed a broad range of intersectoral actions to tackle so-called traditional hazards - such as those related to drinking- and bathing water, outdoor air and food safety - public policies on indoor air quality, injuries and physical activity have not been sufficiently developed.

Notes to editors

1. The conference entitled Protecting children's health in a changing environment is the latest milestone in an intergovernmental process that started in 1989. The event has been organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe (Copenhagen, Denmark) and hosted by Italy's Ministry of Health and Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. The first four conferences were hosted by the governments of Germany (in 1989), Finland (in 1994), the United Kingdom (in 1999) and Hungary (2004).

2. For further information, please visit the conference web site ( ).

SOURCE: WHO Regional Office for Europe

CONTACT: PRESS INFORMATION: Ms Cristiana Salvi, Mobile: +39-348-019-2305,Email: ; Dr Zsofia Szilagyi, Mobile: +45-2467-4846,Email: .