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Children's Health Indicators Launch, Johannesburg, South Africa

Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Children =s Health Indicators Launch
Johannesburg, South Africa

September 2, 2002

Thank you Linda (Fisher) for that introduction.

I = m pleased to be here tonight and to have the opportunity to address an issue that effects every country around the world B the health and safety of our children.

The terrible reality that every year at least 3 million children under the age of five die due to environment related conditions has forged a common bond in the world community. While many issues may divide us, the welfare and future of our children is a cause on which we all stand united. Children are our most valuable natural resource. They are the foundation upon which every country builds. We need to guard their future because it is ours.

The World Health Organization has made clear their commitment to children = s health over the past few days by launching the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance. The United States supports this effort to build a global partnership that has as its main objective the increased health and well-being of our children.

The United States underscored our commitment to building these global partnerships by supporting Canada = s initiative to strengthen understanding of the relationship between health and the environment.

Over the past several years domestically and internationally, the United States has focused on the importance of children = s health. In the past year, momentum has been generated for the specific need of developing and implementing children = s health indicators around the world.

Today, I = m pleased to launch the United States led initiative to partner with other governments, NGO= s and interested organizations to promote the creation and use of children = s environmental health indicators worldwide.

Children = s environmental health indicators are effective tools for guiding policy and action. Indicators report the status of children = s environmental health, measure progress over time, and highlight areas of concern. Once the indicators pinpoint the problems, governments can move to eliminate environmental hazards, prevent exposure, and treat children = s illnesses.

Indicators will be helpful in addressing respiratory illness and diarrhea B two of the leading causes of child mortality. Together, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases claim the lives of over 4 million children annually. In both instances, the majority of the illnesses are related to poor environmental conditions.

Indicators are the tools that can help us understand the complex interaction between environmental exposures and health effects. Ultimately, eliminating the risk of exposure to harmful environmental conditions is the key to reducing the mortality rates. As it stands now, treatment of these diseases offers only a brief reprieve from suffering, as children are continually re-exposed to dirty air and dirty water in their daily lives. This is a vicious cycle that can and must be stopped.

The United States believes that by working together with other countries and organizations to establish children = s environmental health indicators, we can make significant strides towards a healthier future for our children.

I want to thank the governments and organizations that have already joined the United States in this effort, and I will continue during my time here in South Africa to seek additional support from our partners around the world.

Specifically, I would like to express my gratitude to Mexico, Italy, WHO, UNICEF, UNEP, OECD, North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, Physicians for Social Responsibility, International Society of Doctors for the Environment, and International Network on Children = s Health, Environment, and Safety for your support.

Our commitment to children is absolute and permeates many of the initiatives the United States has brought to this summit.

President Bush = s A Water for the Poor @ initiative announced last week, will commit up to $970 million over three years, of which more than $500 million will be devoted to water supply, sanitation, and health projects. Our children, who suffer most acutely from the lack of clean water, will benefit the most from these actions.

Our initiatives on indoor air pollution and clean fuel also provide significant benefits to children. Approximately 2 million children die per year as a result of acute respiratory infections, 60% of which is attributable to air pollution.

By improving indoor air quality, reducing sulfur in fuel, and renewing our commitment to eliminate lead in gasoline, we can improve the health and well being of millions of children around the world.

This summit provides an opportunity for all of us to strengthen our resolve to save and improve the lives of children, an opportunity that the United States has seized through our proposals and partnerships. We must continue to work together as a global community to make sure that their future is one filled with hope, security, and promise.

Thank you.