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The occasion was World Health Day 2003 (7 April). Most of the arrangements were in place when I reached the Birla Matushri Sabhagar, Mumbai. Miniature flags of India and of the United Nations, placed firmly in the centre of the dais, were fluttering away. Neatly placed on a smaller table in front of the dais were 300 miniature flags of all the nations of the world. The violet banner read “World Health Day, Maharashtra United Nations Association” (MUNA) along with the UN symbol. A drawing had been pinned to the left side of the stage curtain. It showed children climbing different ladders, trying to become something in life, and read, “Shape the Future of Life — Healthy Environment for Children”. The audience comprised school and college students, parents and members of MUNA.

CHANGE brings you excerpts of the Welcome Address by Pheroza Godrej, President, MUNA, and the entire Keynote Address by Feodor Starcevic, Director, United Nations Information Centre.

R.A.

Welcome Address


Healthy
Environment
For Children


As a mother of two grown-up children, I would like to share a few thoughts associated with bringing up children to become responsible, caring and mature adults.

Children are sent to school for a formal education related to various fields of learning. Their real education — the education for the conduct of their lives — is learnt at home. Children imbibe mainly through the process of emulation and, therefore, parents play the most important role in moulding the minds and hearts of their children.

Comforts do not enhance good breeding. It is positive human values passed on to them that will stand them in good stead and influence them to make correct choices — to pick the wheat from the chaff. It is important that children, from an early age, are exposed to the great outdoors. Nature is a fascinating teacher and from her there are numerous and valuable lessons to learn. For example, social insects like ants, wasps and bees teach us responsibility, discipline and cooperation. Butterflies and flowers teach us that beauty is short-lived and though their lifespan is very brief, the joy and happiness they give us is really incalculable. Animals like the lion and the tiger do not kill for the sake of killing. They do so only when they are hungry and maintain a sufficient quantity of their intake without any greed.

And for those who believe that finishing school will give their children the finishing touches, if the mettle they are made up of has hardened, no amount of polishing will smoothen the rough edges. The moulding has to be done at a pliable stage.

The world, as we see it today, is crying for good, thinking and selfless people who have their minds and hearts in the right place. The well-being of future generations lies in today’s children. Let us equip them to face the many challenges ahead.

 

Keynote Address


The Silent
Dangers

 

Today, we have gathered here to observe a very important day of the annual calendar, World Health Day. It is often said, and you must have heard it many times, that good health, besides love, is the most precious gift with which a person can be blessed during his or her life. All that we aspire to in life, important positions — even the most important ones, material possessions — even enormous riches, pale into insignificance if our health is lost.

Good health is as much a result of healthy living as it is a gift of good genes. And healthy living has to be learnt, has to be inculcated, so that it can produce its benefits. And this is precisely the theme of this year’s observance of World Health Day, which is “Healthy Environments for Children”, with the slogan “Shape the Future of Life”.

Children are the future of every society and shaping their healthy future helps bring advancement to the society as a whole. In this respect, I am particularly satisfied that we are today in the spiritual presence of His Holiness Acharya Mahapragya, the champion of peace and non-violence. I had the pleasure to be one of the speakers at the Fourth and Fifth International Conference on Peace and Non-Violent Action in 1999 in Delhi and this year in Rajsamand, convened by his organisation Anuvibha. An important part of health is mental health, and accepting non-violence as a way of life is of enormous importance for achieving and maintaining a healthy outlook in life. May his teachings be even more widely accepted, in India and in the world. I am also very happy to have been able to meet Yuvacharya Mahashraman and have an exchange of views with him.

What are the environments in which children live? They are home, school and the local community. They should be healthy places where children have good conditions for unimpeded and healthy development. But, for a significant percentage of the world’s children, especially in developing countries, these places are often so unhealthy that they cause the majority of deaths and disease among children. More than 5 million children from birth to 14 years of age die every year from diseases linked to the environments in which they live, learn and play.

"

More than 5 million

children from birth to

14 years of age die

every year from

diseases linked to the

environments in

which they live, learn

and play.

"


Degraded environments are the breeding ground for germs, worms and disease-bearing insects. Half a billion children worldwide are debilitated by diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, cholera and many others. Worst affected are children living in environments plagued by persistent poverty, conflicts, natural and man-made disasters, and social inequity.

Children have a unique vulnerability. As they grow and develop, there are susceptibility periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats. Some environmental diseases result in long-term disability; others cause more immediate and short-term effects. Some may result in conditions such as blindness, crippling disease and mental retardation. Those children who are chronically sick or disabled cannot regularly attend school and so their social and intellectual development suffers.

In turn, this huge burden of ill health among children constrains the social and economic development of their countries. Children with chronic diseases and long-term disability will not grow up to be healthy and productive people, which is the greatest resource of any country and is essential for achieving sustainable development.

Today’s modern risks result from the unsafe use of dangerous chemicals, inadequate disposal of toxic waste, noise and industrial pollution. Unsafe chemicals in toys and household products may also harm children. Emerging potential environmental threats to health include global climate change, ozone depletion, contamination by persistent organic pollutants and chemicals and emerging diseases.

As we see, the risks to children in their everyday environments are numerous. But six groups of environmental health hazards must be tackled as priority issues. These are:
1. Household water insecurity
2. Poor hygiene and sanitation
3. Air pollution
4. Diseases transmitted by insects or worms
5. Chemical hazards
6. Accidents

Children have the right to an environment that safeguards them not only against disease, but against ill-treatment. Violence, abuse and exploitation of children are “the silent dangers” that lurk in every society in the world. Tens of millions of children suffer from severe abuse and violence each year. They die as a result of conflicts, they are injured or disabled, they are used as child soldiers or molested as sex objects; they are engaged in hazardous child labour.

There are many solutions to these problems. A range of effective interventions exist in the areas of policy, education, awareness raising, technology development and behavioural change. The work must centre on the places where children live, and the approach must also be multi-sectoral and holistic, with the child at the centre. Many factors involved, such as different government departments, parents, teachers, health and social workers, religious leaders should work in a truly integrated partnership. Protective environment for children is crucial to their health and development.

In September 2002, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the Healthy Environments for Children Initiative. WHO is now working with different groups to create a global alliance capable of mobilising local support and intervening to make children’s lives healthier where they live, learn and play.

These and other initiatives are needed to help the world achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals: to reduce, by the year 2015, mortality rates for infants and children under 5 by two thirds.

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s children are the adults of tomorrow. They deserve to inherit a safer, fairer and healthier world, and we should all work towards this goal. I congratulate Maharashtra UN Association for organising this observance and drawing attention to the important necessity of creating healthy environments for our children to grow in.
 


In the next issue CHANGE will reproduce excerpts of speeches delivered by His Holiness Acharya Mahapragya, Muni Mahendra Kumar and Gool Ghadially, Principal, New Era School.