WHO: Director-General’s Address to World Health Assembly
19 May 2008: In her address to the sixty-first session of the World Health Assembly, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan identified climate change, together with soaring food prices and pandemic influenza, as three humanitarian crises looming on the horizon that represent international security threats.
Approximately 2500 delegates from 193 countries have gathered from 19-24 May in Geneva, Switzerland, to engage in the annual task of reviewing progress and setting priorities for the World Health Organization (WHO). On the agenda is a resolution adopted by the WHO Executive Board on health and climate change. The Director-General said that climate change is adding stress to areas that are already fragile, with thin margins of survival. She noted that “the international community will also have to cope with a growing number of environmental refugees. If land is parched or salinated, if coastal and low-lying areas are permanently under water, these people cannot simply go home. Environmental refugees thus become a new wave of settlers, possibly adding to international tensions.” Chang also said the best opportunities for big strides in global health may be in the fight against neglected tropical diseases, many of which are expected to increase as a result of climate change, due to the identification of safe and effective drugs to fight many of these diseases.