WHO: Urgent steps must be taken to make cities healthier
MANILA, 7 April 2010 —The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that continued population growth in cities in the Western Pacific will have damaging consequences for human health, particularly for the poor, unless urgent steps are taken to tackle health risks for people who live in cities.
"Many cities in the Western Pacific have grown too fast and too randomly," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Millions of people already live in urban slums or near-slums where disease is a serious threat. With the projected rise in urban populations across the Region, the health risks will also rise if insufficient attention is paid to planning and implementation of healthy urban practices and infrastructure."
Rapid and unplanned urbanization increases human vulnerability to poverty, disease and natural disasters. Of all the Regions, the Western Pacific Region experiences the most natural hazards and disasters. Countries like the Philippines had their fair share of these in 2009.
"Typhoon Ketsana showed with devastating effect what can happen when urban planning is not a priority. People living in informal settlements suffered disproportionately from the flooding caused by Ketsana, which was compounded by inadequate sanitation systems in some areas of Metro Manila", said Dr Shin.
After the onset of Ketsana, the number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea increased and outbreaks of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease caused by contact with water contaminated with urine from rats and other mammals, were declared in several areas.
The Western Pacific Region has the highest number of people living in cities compared to other WHO regions. Almost half of people in the Region – some 800 million people – currently live in urban areas, and this figure is expected to rise in the coming years. This shift from rural to urban living has had a profound impact on society and health. For a large and growing number of people and communities, urban living means poverty and isolation, which in turn lead to new health risks and challenges and widen the gap of health inequities.
Addressing these challenges and narrowing the health inequity gap caused by the rapid increase in urban living are among the most important global health issues of the 21st century. By the year 2030, six out of every 10 people globally will live in cities, and this proportion will grow to seven out of 10 in 2050.
Innovative and effective solutions that mitigate health risks of people living in cities must be found, acted upon and sustained over time. But the health sector cannot act alone, as many of the factors at play are controlled by other sectors. This is why it is time for all sectors to work together with civil society, community groups, architects, engineers, and businesses to ensure that growing cities are healthy cities and to deal with the problems afflicting many of the urban poor.
Planning will work only where there is good urban governance and where the communities – and especially the urban poor – are brought into the decision-making processes that affect their lives. As part of the "1000 Cities, 1000 Lives" campaign for World Health Day 2010, events are taking place around the globe to showcase what cities and citizens can do to make a positive and lasting difference for health.
"It's time for everyone to do their part. Cities in this Region have all the ingredients for positive change", said Dr Shin. "Today, more than 500 cities across the Western Pacific participated in World Health Day celebrations and organized events. We urge them – and all of you – to support and sustain these efforts for the future. World Health Day may be held one day per year, but the health of the people is an every day matter."
For more information, please contact Dr Mario Villaverde, WHO Technical Officer, Health Promotion, Telephone +632 528 9884; Mobile +63 (0) 928 504 5785; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org