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Closing Remarks: Asia Pacific Healthy Islands Conference

July 27, 2018

CLOSING REMARKS

SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA

ASIA PACIFIC HEALTHY ISLANDS CONFERENCE

27 July 2018 | Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City

 

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the Government of the Philippines, I would like to congratulate all of you for making the Asia Pacific Healthy Islands Conference a success. This is a huge contribution to making our islands—our precious nations—more connected during these trying times of climate change. As we nurture and relate to this interconnectedness, we realize more and more that we are simply one people.

It is necessary that we take on the challenge to bring our causes, our governments, and our societies closer to the fulfillment of our collective aim of safeguarding our people from the adverse impacts of climate change, which include health risks to our people. In this era of seemingly unpredictable weather patterns and increased exposure to health risks, no country can be put in isolation. A threat to one is a threat to all.

Let us ponder upon the following as reported by the World Health Organization in February 2018:

One, climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Two, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.

Three, the direct damage costs to health, excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation, is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion/year by 2030.

Four, areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

And five, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues:

 

The World Health Organization further explained that over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.

In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC. Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.

What does it mean for us, the vulnerable countries? These means there are more threats to life and limb, more pronounced reduction, if not loss, of basic necessities such as food, water and land on which we build our homes and organize our governments and societies.

As leaders, informed of the latest data from authorities such as the UNFCCC and the WHO, among others, we know that globally, the number of reported weather-related disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.

Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. With more than half of the world’s population living within 60 km of the sea, people may be forced to move, which will in turn heighten the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases.

Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. Lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrheal disease, which kills over 500,000 children aged under 5 years, every year.

Floods and extreme precipitation are also increasing in frequency and intensity, and are expected to do so throughout this century. Floods contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions. This will increase the prevalence of malnutrition and undernutrition, which currently cause 3.1 million deaths every year.

Interestingly, as reported by WHO, measuring the health effects from climate change can only be approximations. But there are compelling certainties, nonetheless. All populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. People living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, children, in particular, living in poor countries, elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions, have higher vulnerability to climate and health risks.

Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

Taking into account the WHO assessment involving only a subset of the possible health impacts, and assuming continued economic growth and health progress, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; 38,000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48,000 due to diarrhea, 60,000 due to malaria, and 95,000 due to childhood undernutrition.[1]

 

Where do we go from here?

 

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues:

No less than the WHO guides us on the ways forward.

Many policies and individual choices have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce major health co-benefits. For example, cleaner energy systems, and safer modes of public transportation and active movement – such as cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles – could reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution, which causes some 4.3 million deaths per year, and ambient air pollution, which causes about 3 million deaths every year.

In 2015, the WHO Executive Board endorsed a new work plan on climate change and health. This includes:

  • Partnerships, to coordinate with partner agencies within the UN system, and ensure that health is properly represented in the climate change agenda.
  • Awareness raising, to provide and disseminate information on the threats that climate change presents to human health, and opportunities to promote health while cutting carbon emissions.
  • Science and evidence, to coordinate reviews of the scientific evidence on the links between climate change and health, and develop a global research agenda.
  • Support for implementation of the public health response to climate change, to assist countries to build capacity to reduce health vulnerability to climate change, and promote health while reducing carbon emissions.

 

As a National Adaptation Plan Champion and a Global Champion for Resilience, I appeal that we pursue our counterpart national actions to ensure convergence among our stakeholders—our governments, non-government actors, civil society, and the citizens in particular, together with our respective development partners, and then align our national strategies with the umbrella plans such as the NDC, NAP, and this time, the WHO New Work Plan. We then have a seamless pathway to overcome these climate and health risks for the benefit of our people.

Let me share with you the Philippines’ experience.

Our National Climate Change Action Plan considers health and community development under the themes and intermediate outcomes such as Water Sufficiency, Food Security, Climate Smart Industries and Services, Ecological Security and Stability, and Knowledge and Capability Building.

Specifically, health outcomes are articulated in our National Adaptation Plan, along with strategies dealing with increased resilience of coastal communities, agricultural productivity, enhanced roadmap on water, and integrity of our forests as a crucial adaptation and mitigation intervention.

In the ongoing updating of our National Climate Change Action Plan, we ask the hard questions: will our people enjoy water to drink, shelter for the families, sustainable and breathable urban settlements, access to green jobs and services, and affordable, accessible, efficient and clean energy for all?

To make all these data and services known to all, the Climate Change Commission has launched our national climate change data architecture, the National Integrated Climate Change Data and Information Exchange System. This consolidates in one portal all vital and relevant climate change related information provided and issued by government agencies on one hand, and those from non-government actors such as private sector, civil society and development partners. This platform is accessible to all, 24/7.

The needed capacitation of local government units in the climate action is carried out through the Communities for Resilience (CORE) Modules, in convergence with the Department of the Interior and Local Government and its Local Government Academy, as well as new partnerships with Higher Education Institutions and the Commission on Higher Education. Topics covered are risk assessment, greenhouse gas inventory, and the People’s Survival Fund, our domestic climate financing for climate change adaptation. The primary goal is to let the local government units assess their local risks, so they may formulate and implement their Local Climate Change Action Plan.

Such Plans are pivotal in allowing the communities to be sufficiently equipped in this battle, as they serve as the first line of defense. Moreover, climate data should emanate from local statistics and scenarios. Realizing this, it is but appropriate that we increase climate investments in our local communities. Strong communities mean strong countries. Climate change action, to be effective, must be rooted on what is local.

To move our climate change agenda forward, it is my moral duty, as Chair of the Philippine Senate Committees on Climate Change, Finance, and Foreign Relations, to ensure that budgetary support is appropriate to the demands of the changing climate. We are bent on sustaining the gains for local resilience from our People’s Survival Fund, and we also capitalize on the prospects of availing financing under the Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility, and the Adaptation Fund, among others.

In this regard, let me share with you a specific health and climate change related-advocacy that I have just put forward in the Philippine Senate last July 24.

I sponsored the legislative measure[2] covering the supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2018 in the amount of one billion one hundred sixty-one million seven hundred ten thousand pesos (P1,161,710,000), which amount is intended to provide the much-needed health assistance to those that had been vaccinated with Dengvaxia.

This initiative is premised on the advice of the Philippine Department of Health on the efforts to fight dengue, which is a prevailing public health that is also induced by climate change.

According to the Department of Health, this Health Assistance Program for Dengvaxia vaccinees will be composed of allocations for medical assistance program, public health management, and human resources for health deployment.

In brief, the above allocation will also be used to provide medical assistance for hospitalization, out-patient care services, procurement of supplies and medicines, including the issuance of Dengvaxia assistance cards to facilitate the availment of hospital services.  P25 million has been allocated for the last item alone.

This health assistance program will likewise entail the hiring of additional 1,250 nurses to accelerate the profiling of the vaccinees which shall include demographic profiling, assessment of pre-dengvaxia and post-dengvaxia medical status, and physical examinations.

The funding for this supplemental budget will come from the refund from the Zuellig Pharma, the local distributor of the Dengvaxia Sanofi Pasteur, covering the unused vials of Dengvaxia vaccine which has been remitted by the Department of Health to the Bureau of the Treasury.

This Bill has been certified urgent by the President, and I have urged my Senator-colleagues to do our part in allaying the fears of the parents and families of the almost 900,000 individuals, both children and adults, who had been administered with this vaccine.

To the Ministers of Health, let me say that no country alone can fight the health risks due to climate change. As we continue in our roles as leaders in our own countries, may we have more answers than questions in our quest for resilience.

The goal of health resiliency is closely connected to the overall mitigation and adaptation goals of the Parties to the Paris climate change agreement. The 1.5 degree threshold is more relevant at this time, as we, vulnerable developing states and small island states, suffer the most from climate and health hazards even if we contribute the least to global emissions.

Our collective action is a powerful message to pursue climate justice. We are suffering, and will continue to suffer, the consequences of unabated emission. We need to represent our collective vision of resilient developing and small island states in the key negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The needed technological development, increased capacitation of our people, and the equitable flow of climate financing must be articulated strongly, to translate to specific programs and projects that will allow our nations to survive in this era of climate change.

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

It is in this context that I salute the efforts of the WHO, especially its Office in the Western Pacific. Your untiring expertise to link nations in their quest for scientific and professional guidance and services to address allied concerns deserves sustained praise and support.

I commend the Philippine Department of Health as it stands committed to pursue the local health action plans in light of global challenges. Let us be steadfast in ensuring that Filipinos remain alive and healthy in the face of climate change, and let us share our lessons learned with other countries.

Felicitations to Dr. Susan Mercado of the WRPO, for leading this part of the globe in ensuring health services and programs reach the people who need them the most. You lend your voice and your integrity as the sterling message of global cooperation for resilience. Keep advocating for them, and for us, so that the rest of the world will learn how to be healthy in the regime of climate threats, the Western Pacific way!

To the DOH, DFA, CCC, and other partner agencies in this Conference, let us extend our services to our neighboring countries, especially the beautiful islands whose ministers are with us today.

Let us build a convergence—or the HEALTHY ISLANDS CONCLAVE—for constant exchange of lessons and insights on our common future. Our islands are treasures of our shared seas and horizons. We owe it to our people to stand up for them and the generations after us.

To the Healthy Islands of the Western Pacific, Mabuhay!

Thank you very much.***

[1] http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

[2] Committee Report No. 395 on House Bill No. 7449.