At least 6.6 million people die each year in southern Asia due to environmental factors - about 25 percent of all deaths in the region, according to the World Health Organization. Meeting in Bangkok last week, ministers from across the region agreed with environmental and health officials on a plan to reduce that number.
Over the last 50 years, environmental pollution in southern Asia has intensified due to rapid industrialization, urbanization and motorization.
The result has been urban air pollution, the generation of solid and hazardous wastes, as well as numerous disasters and emergencies created by human activities, the officials acknowledged.
"The region's high death toll from environmental degradation can be avoided if we are determined to reverse the current trend," said Shigeru Omi.
Omi is Western Pacific director of the UN World Health Organization, WHO, which jointly organized the First Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Bangkok with the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.
The meeting was aimed at strengthening cooperation between ministries responsible for environment and health within Southeast and East Asian countries and across the region.
At the two-day meeting last week, ministers and senior officials adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Environment and Health.
The accompanying regional charter identified six environmental and health priorities for joint policies and programs over the next three years:
‧water supply, hygiene and sanitation
‧solid and hazardous waste
‧toxic chemicals and hazardous substances
‧climate change, ozone depletion and ecosystem change
‧contingency planning, preparedness and response to environmental health emergencies
The Bangkok Declaration provides a mechanism for sharing knowledge and experiences, improves policy and regulatory frameworks at the national and regional level, and promotes the implementation of integrated environmental health strategies and regulations.