Government Pledges to Reduce Environmental Hazards

Cambodia signed a regional pact over the weekend to step up efforts to mitigate environmental hazards that affect public health, including marine and air pollution, according to a statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Representatives from 14 countries convened in the Philippines over the weekend to sign the Manila Declaration as part of the triennial Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Health and Environment, an initiative headed by WHO and the U.N.’s Environment Program.

The declaration “calls for action on the emerging issues of (1) antimicrobial resistance, (2) transboundary haze and air pollution, (3) transnational waste shipments, and (4) marine pollution and destruction of coral reefs,” the statement said.

The event was a “concrete example of how we can best tackle emerging challenges when we come together and discuss issues of common concern openly,” Shin Young-Soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, was quoted as saying.

Signatories recognized the need for stronger efforts to fulfill the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement, both of which seek to tackle issues caused by climate change, it added.

Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann confirmed that Health Minister Mam Bunheng represented the country in Manila, but said he could not comment on the specifics of the pledge as he had not been briefed.

Vinntak Sung, deputy director of the ministry’s department of international cooperation, said the government would be rallying officials on a local level to uphold the goals of the declaration. However, he declined to outline any specific strategies or potential policies that would contribute to its enforcement.

“We are dedicated to putting boots on the ground to get grassroots support for the initiative, and will be trying to get representatives from each district around the country to enforce [the declaration] within that district,” he said.

Daniel Dimick, country director for the NGO Health Poverty Action, said he was skeptical about the potential impact of the declaration without financial support from major donors.

“The key thing for anything like this is how it gets ratified and funded,” Mr. Dimick said, noting that the scope of the government’s health budget would not normally cover something as broad and complex as environmental health, with most state funds going to basic costs such as staffing.

“Unless there’s donor integration…you won’t be seeing any changes on the ground from such a declaration—we’ve seen that in the past as well,” he said. “Any impactful change will come from donors.”

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