Sustainable development:
Social issues & the environment

Health and the environment

UNECE Water and Health Convention

In the European part of the UNECE* region alone, an estimated 120 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. That is, one person in seven is vulnerable to water-related diseases such as cholera, bacillary dysentery, coli infections, viral hepatitis A and typhoid. It is believed that cleaner water and better sanitation could prevent over 30 million cases of water-related disease in Europe each year.

The 1999 Protocol on Water and Health, which entered into force in 2005, is the first major international legal approach for the prevention, control and reduction of water-related diseases in Europe. States are required to establish national and local targets for the quality of drinking water and the quality of discharges, as well as for the performance of water supply and waste-water treatment.

The Protocol is an addition to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. WHO/Europe and the UNECE provide the joint secretariat for the Protocol, coordinating activities for its implementation. WHO handles the health aspects, while UNECE takes care of the legal and procedural aspects. The two institutions jointly organized the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on 17-19 January 2007 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

* The United States and Canada are also members of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Environmental considerations are integrated from the start in any UNHCR refugee assistance operation, while the full participation of refugees as well as of local populations in environmental conservation is encouraged. A monitoring system was established in 1995, and Greening the Camps was UNHCR's theme for World Environment Day in 2005. The office has published Environmental Guidelines, as well as a series of handbooks on environmental management and forestry, refugee operations, energy use, alternative fuels and cooking stoves, sound agricultural practice, and animal husbandry. It has also adopted environmentally-friendly procurement guidelines and has an in-house recycling program. UNHCR's environmental budget accounts for 5% of its total US $1 billion.

Refugees leaving Aisha camp

Refugees preparing to leave Aisha camp dismantle their tukuls so that they can take the wood home and use it for a new shelter there. ©UNHCR/B.Heger