The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN partners have published a compendium of 500 actions to reduce death and diseases driven by environmental risk factors. The publication states that almost 25% of deaths worldwide could be prevented by fully implementing these actions.

Along with the WHO, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) created the compendium, which the authors describe as the first resource of its kind, in bringing together expertise from across the UN system to address health and environment. 

The compendium provides guidance on policies, actions, awareness raising, and capacity building for all major areas of health and environment. It is designed for policymakers, government ministries, local governments, in-country UN personnel, and other decision makers. Each intervention is classified according to sectors involved, level of implementation, and necessary instruments, such as regulation, taxes and subsidies, infrastructure, education, and communication. 

The actions and recommendations address a range of environmental risk factors to health, such as air pollution, unsafe water, sanitation, hygiene, climate and ecosystem change, chemicals, radiation, and occupational risks. On chemicals and health, the compendium focuses on chemical safety and chemical incidents. Regarding chemical incidents, it highlights events arising from technological incidents, natural disasters, conflict and terrorism, polluted environments, and contaminated foods and products. Regarding chemical incidents with international consequences, such as when a chemical release contaminates air or water and crosses national borders, countries must have the necessary capacities to detect, evaluate and respond to such public health events and the WHO should help investigate and control them. Regarding chemical safety, the compendium argues the health sector can help reduce risks from exposures to chemicals by promoting health protection strategies, regulating chemicals, increasing public education, and sharing information and best practices.

The compendium also addresses priority settings for action, such as cities and urban settlements, as well as cross-cutting topics like children’s environmental health. The publication calls for scaling up actions in countries by ministries of health and others at the national, regional, and local levels.

Speaking about the compendium, officials made the following remarks:

  • Maria Neira, WHO, said implementing the actions should be part of a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19 and is essential to attaining the SDGs;
  • Aboubacar Kampo, UNICEF, said healthy environments can prevent a up to a quarter of deaths among children under the age of five years and, functioning as preventative health care, help reduce unnecessary medical costs for families; and
  • Mandeep Dhaliwal, UNDP, said the compendium’s actions can help achieve health equity, as low- and middle-income countries bear the greatest environmental burden in diseases and injuries. 

The compendium is conceived as a living repository, subject to updates and new guidance as they become available from partner organizations. [WHO press release] [Publication: Compendium of WHO and Other UN Guidance on Health and Environment]