Teacher Insights: WHO advocates for healthy and resilient cities in the Western Pacific Region

Half the people in the Western Pacific Region already live in cities, and this trend is expected to accelerate in the future. Rapid and unplanned urbanization has given rise to slums and informal settlements. No reliable count exists for the region; however, a survey of six Member States (Cambodia, China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Philippines and Viet Nam) found that more than 212.5 million people live in slums, according to 2009 figures. People living in slums are exposed to a wide range of risk factors including:

(1) a lack of safe drinking water;

(2) improper sanitation;

(3) unsafe food;

(4) limited access to health services; increased exposure to violence and exploitation; and

(6) social isolation, among others.

These risks factors has a great effect to the economy growth of every city. Productivity rates will go low and it will lead people to great danger. An unhealthy city creates an unhealthy environment not just for some, but for the next generation as well.

“Throughout the world we are witnessing a period of rapid growth and unprecedented urbanization,” said Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Cities are now faced with increasingly complex challenges from climate change, globalization of trade, changing lifestyles and overpopulation. Without effective governance, cities will struggle to provide even the most basic services. They will become places where inequality, poverty and poor health are rampant.”

Health challenges of the urban age

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is hosting the Technical Consultation on Urban Health in the Western Pacific Region from 27-28 of April. The consultation will:

  • Review process in the implementation of the Regional Framework for Scaling Up and Expanding Healthy Cities in the Western Pacific 2011-2015;
  • Discuss challenges and opportunities to urban health in the Western Pacific Region; and
  • Outline the strategic focus areas that will contribute to the updating the framework for healthy urbanization for the Western Pacific Region for 2016-2020.

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“The updated framework calls on cities to anticipate, mitigate and adapt to current and emerging threats to urban health. These include threats from climate change as evidenced by cyclones and typhoons of unprecedented speed and forces causing widespread destruction,” according to Dr. Susan Mercado, Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health through the Life-Course at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific.

Floods and storms are the most frequently occurring natural disasters in the Region – affecting approximately 3.35 billion people between 1070 and 2014.

In terms of air pollution, the Western Pacific Region bears a disproportionately high burden: an estimate 2.88 million (41%) of deaths globally due to indoor and outdoor air pollution occur here. According to a database of 1600 cities in 91 countries, only 12% of people living in these cities breathe air that complies with WHO guidelines.

Dramatic increases in the number of vehicles cause not only road congestion but also increases the risks of road traffic injury, contribute to air pollution and promote sedentary lifestyles, which increases the risks for overweight and diabetes. Road traffic injuries are the second leading cause of death among those aged 5-14 in the Western Pacific, claiming some 900 lives a day, according to WHO estimates.

Healthy Cities rise to the challenge

To make cities healthy and resilient, nationals and local governments must invest in building up a city’s resources and capacity. This involves working closely with other sectors such as housing, transportation, energy and education, to integrate health in the design of urban environments.

WHO has been working with cities across the region to recognize and promote best practices, facilitate city-to-city learning and advocate for health at the center of urban planning and development. The Alliance for Healthy Cities, established by the WHO Regional Office for the development. The Alliance meets biennially to share knowledge and information while promoting the Healthy Cities approach to members and the public.

During its November 2014 meeting in Hong Kong SAR (China), 13 cities in the Region were recognized for outstanding work in promoting healthy diets and breastfeeding, tobacco control, implementation of water safety plans and creating safe, disability-inclusive and gender-responsive communities.

The WHO-Macao SAR (China) Healthy Cities leadership program has been organized with participants from 10 priority cities across the Region. Participants attended a healthy cities leadership courses and visited sites to gain knowledge and experience to share upon returning to their respective cities.

“The vision of healthy and resilient cities is achievable because mayors and city officials are committed to the health of their constituents. Good health is good policies,” said Dr. Shin. “The world is changing and cities can be engines for growth,health and resilience.

Related links:

Urban Health in the Western Pacific: http://www.wpro.who.int/health_promotion/about/urban_health/en/

Health Urbanization: Regional Framework for Scaling Up and Expanding Health Cities in the Western Pacific (2011-2015)

http://www.wpro.int/health_promotion/documents/healthy_urbanization_regional_framework

Health topic: Urban Health: http://www.who.int/topics/urban_health/en/

Alliance for Healthy Cities: http://www.alliance-healthcities.com/

About Teacher Angel

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