Address by the Regional Director at the Nationwide BreatheLife Campaign and Action Plan

16 July 2019, Male, Maldives

Your Excellency Faisal Naseem, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives; His Excellency Abdulla Ameen, Hon’ble Minister of Health; His Excellency Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Hon’ble Minister of Environment; distinguished cabinet members, ministers of state, UN and other partners, members of the diplomatic corps, WHO colleagues, distinguished guests,

It is my privilege to join you at the launch of Maldives’ national BreatheLife campaign.

This is especially so as it’s the first of its kind in our Region, reflecting Maldives’ consistent leadership on both air pollution and climate change.

As you appreciate, air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin: Air pollution affects climate and climate affects air pollution. The same emission sources contribute to both.

As such, aggressively addressing greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon is critical to achieving rapid health and climate gains.

Maldives has always understood the connection between climate change and air pollution and has acted to reduce their impact on public health and well-being.

In that respect, Maldives has been ahead of the game.

Yes, climate change and air pollution threaten the health of our planet and the many species that share it. But as WHO has long emphasized, they also threaten human health, from increasing the risk of natural disasters to changing the incidence and spread of noncommunicable and vector-borne diseases.

It is no coincidence that it was in Maldives that in 2017 WHO’s Regional Committee endorsed the Malé Declaration – a Declaration dedicated to building health systems resilience to climate change.

We are proud to support Maldives implement the Declaration and the SIDS Health Initiative. As part of that, we are proud to be providing technical assistance to ensure health is well covered in national climate planning, alongside tailored initiatives such as the training workshop on protecting communities from air pollution we held just last week.

Notably, it is also no coincidence that in 2015 Maldives became the first country in our Region to reach the target of achieving a 50% increase in the number of households with access to clean fuel for cooking.

The speed of Maldives’ clean energy transition makes it a global leader in tackling household air pollution, with just 6% of households now exposed to this form of air pollution.

Maldives’ achievement shows how air pollution can be rapidly reduced when the appropriate solutions are acted on.

Excellency, distinguished guests,

The launch of this country-wide campaign cements Maldives’ regional – and indeed global – leadership.

More importantly, it will help secure the health and well-being of all people across the country’s unique expanse.

As the recently launched National Action Plan on Air Pollutants highlights, that point is crucial.

To its credit, Maldives’ air quality is very close to meeting WHO Guidelines. Nevertheless, in parts of the country we expect the levels to be somewhat higher.

The BreatheLife campaign provides clear and actionable guidance on how the factors affecting remaining hotspots can be addressed, from looking at transport-related issues in Malé and the open burning of waste – especially on Thilafushi – to occupational exposure among construction workers and those working in spray painting and vehicle repair workshops.

This is particularly important given we know that it is the local or personal exposures to air pollution that matter most, and that air pollution is not a single substance but results from a range of anthropogenic and natural sources.

In that sense, Maldives’ initiative well captures the core principle of the Sustainable Development Goals generally, and the health goal specifically – leaving no one behind.

But the benefits of your approach will be greater still.

Indeed, the active promotion of healthy and sustainable transport will be a game-changer in a city as compact as Greater Malé.

By reducing the number of vehicles on the road and encouraging walking, cycling and other forms of physical activity, Maldives will fast-track its battle against noncommunicable diseases while reducing vehicle emissions and air pollution and enhancing road safety.

Incentivizing and promoting such transformations will allow Maldives to show the world what a low carbon, sustainable city looks like.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely what the WHO-supported BreatheLife campaign is all about: working to improve human health by improving the health of the natural and man-made environments we inhabit.

I am pleased to note that since 2018, when Greater Malé became the first city in the Region to join the BreatheLife network, five more cities in the Region have signed up. This includes Bengaluru and Chilamathur Mandal in India, Bagor City in Indonesia, and Kathmandu and Lalitpur in Nepal.

I am also pleased to note that awareness and resolve to tackle air pollution – especially within the health sector – is growing stronger across the Region, as it is in Maldives.

To that end, WHO is committed to supporting you implement the BreatheLife campaign, just as we are committed to supporting you roll-out the National Health Adaptation Plan and enhance water, waste and chemical management as part of your commitment to the Global Green and Healthy Hospital initiative.

Excellency, distinguished guests,

I once again congratulate Maldives on the launch of this campaign. You can be proud of what you have achieved by working across sectors, and with multiple partners.

I look forward to the campaign’s implementation, and to your ongoing leadership on these issues.

Together we must continue to protect and promote public health, including environmental health, across this unique and beautiful country.

Together we must continue to sustain our achievements, accelerate progress, and harness the full power of innovation as we do so.

Thank you.

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