ALICIA WALLACE: World Health Day '24

“MY Health, My Right” was the theme for World Health Day this year, observed on Sunday, April 6. In its statement on World Health Day, the World Health Organization said the theme was chosen to “champion the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.”

Before that, on April 5, the World Health Organization acknowledged that health as a human right is compromised by political inaction, lack of accountability, lack of funding, and the intolerance, discrimination, and stigma that many people face. People experiencing poverty, elderly people, people with disabilities, and people in other situations of vulnerability are most likely to face barriers to health and healthcare.

Health is often thought of as limited to the body and what happens inside it, but the physical environment is among the factors that affects — and even determines — health. The World Health Organization recognizes this, saying, “The burning of fossil fuels is simultaneously driving the climate crisis and taking away our right to breathe clean air, with indoor and outdoor air pollution claiming a life every five seconds.” More and more, connections are being made between the environment, climate change, and our health.

From pollution that compromises water supply and drought that affects agriculture to devastating climate events and pandemics, climate change is affecting our health on all fronts.

In October 2021, the resolution “The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” was adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The resolution encourages States to:

  1. “Build capacities for the efforts to protect the environment in order to fulfil their human rights obligations and commitments, and to enhance cooperation[…] on the implementation of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in accordance with their respective mandates”;

  2. Share good practices, exchanging knowledge and ideas, and building synergies between the protection of human rights and the environment with “an integrated and multisectoral approach and[…] fully respect other human rights obligations, including those related to gender equality”;

  3. Adopt policies to enable people to enjoy the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment;

  4. Consider human rights obligations and commitments in implementation of and follow-up to the Sustainable Development Goals.

In July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 76/300 on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. The resolution, “The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” calls on Member States to ensure that people have access to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” It reaffirms the obligation of States to “respect, protect and promote human rights[…] and to take measures to protect the human rights of all[…] and that additional measures should be taken for those who are particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation[…]”

On the adoption of the resolution, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David R. Boyd said, “The recognition of the right to a healthy environment should lead to constitutional and legislative improvements at the regional, national, and sub-national levels, with positive implications for air quality, safe and sufficient water, healthy soil, sustainably produced food, green energy, climate change, biodiversity and the regulation of toxic substances.”

The treaties, conventions, and agreements made in multilateral spaces often appear to be quite technical and without real world consequence. This does not make them irrelevant or unimportant, but makes clear the need for our active participation in the process and driving outcomes. This week, a timely example is given. Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland violated the rights of older women (who are more likely to die in heatwaves) to family life due to its inaction on climate change — a violation of fundamental human rights. It was found that Switzerland did not take sufficient action to reduce emissions in order to avoid climate disasters. The women had not only the audacity to make the claim and take it to court, but the knowledge of their rights and how they could both demand access to their human rights and hold the State accountable for its inaction. We have considerable work ahead of us when it comes to increasing human rights literacy, interest, advocacy, and mobilization to make our collective demands.

Another connection the World Health Organization made to health and current crises is the one to war and conflict. The World Health Organization recognized that, “Conflicts are devastating lives, causing death, pain, hunger and psychological distress.” The ongoing genocide in Palestine is having a devastating affect on the health and wellbeing of the people there, struggling to survive from one hour to the next.

On April 1, 2024, the 178th day of the Gaza Genocide, 63 Palestinians were killed and 94 were injured in Gaza.

On April 2, 2024, the 179th day of the Gaza Genocide, 71 Palestinians were killed and 102 were injured in Gaza.

On April 3, 2024, the 180th day of the Gaza Genocide, Israel had killed 32,975 Palestinians, including 14,500 children, 140 journalists, and 484 medical staff. It was determined that 30% of the children in Gaza were malnourished.

On April 4, 2024, the 181st day of the Gaza Genocide, the death toll reached 33,000.

April 5 was Palestinian Child’s Day, and 14,000 children in Gaza and 117 children in the West Bank had been killed. Palestinian people are being killed by Israel every day.

On April 1, 2024, it was reported that seven members of the World Central Kitchen team in Gaza were killed. This has drawn comments from people who had little or nothing to say about the killing of Palestinian people. It has already resulted in States and other entities taking different positions on the genocide that has been taking place in Palestine, killing, starving, and terrorizing Palestinian people for 187 days. The killing of those seven people is horrific. The killing of more than 33,000 people, in their homes, in hospitals, in schools, in shelters, in the streets, is horrific.

The genocide was gut-wrenching, infuriating, indefensible, and a complete violation of the human rights of Palestinian people on March 31, 2024, on April 1, 2024, on April 2, 2024, and it is all of that and more today. It will always be one of the most deplorable displays of hate and disregard for human life that we have seen or will see in our lives. Settler colonialism, apartheid, and genocide demand our responses of rage every single day, when it affects the targeted group at least as much as when it affects aid workers. No one is deserving of the conditions Israel has constructed as it destroyed Gaza, and no one is deserving of the killings that Israel sees fit to order and carry out. There is no God and there is no reason in the devastation.

On April 8, 2024, the 185th day of the Gaza Genocide, 38 Palestinian people were killed and 47 were injured in Gaza. We do not know how many more there will be today, tomorrow, or the next day. We do not know how much longer this will go on. It is important that we know that our positions on this issue matters, and we all have a position. If you are not in support of Palestine, you have taken the side of the murderous colonizers. In a complicated world, this is incredibly simple. If you are in support of the Palestinian people, say so. Say it to your family members and friends, your co-workers and neighbours, your followers and subscribers. More people will speak up when you do. More people will pay attention when you call them to it. Participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements, spending your money in ways that do not support Israel. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.


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