Estonian deputy sec-gen: Russia's aggression causing broad environmental, health damage

  • 2023-07-07
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Russia's aggression in Ukraine is causing  wide-ranging environmental and health damage that warrants special attention, Heidi Alasepp, deputy secretary general for health at the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, said at a high-level environmental health conference in Budapest.

"The triple environmental crisis brought on by climate change, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity is a global challenge, posing risks to the health and well-being of present and future generations. However, in addition to new and emerging health threats, armed conflicts that exacerbate the situation require particular attention," Alasepp said in her speech, which focused on the widespread environmental and health damage caused by Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

"The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam has initiated a chain of events resulting in devastating floods. Communities are forced to evacuate their homes, and infrastructure is being destroyed. Water quality is at risk as pollutants and sediments flow downstream," Alasepp said. "We are all also aware of potential threats associated with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. A possible release of radioactive substances poses a direct and long-term threat to human health. Air, water, and soil can become contaminated, which, in addition to local communities, will have serious consequences for people in neighboring countries."

In her speech, Alasepp called for a collective effort to work towards a world where such hostile and destructive acts have no place.

"I visited Ukraine a month ago and saw many wounded in hospitals, destruction on the streets, and an overall sense of stress and fatigue. This is a massive loss of mental and physical health," she said. "Let us not waver in our obligation to protect the environment, our ecosystems, and the health and well-being of people."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1.4 million people prematurely die each year due to environment-related risk factors in the WHO European region, with almost half of these unnecessary deaths caused by air pollution.

Last year, the hottest on record in Europe, over 20,000 people died due to extreme heat. In addition, approximately 77 million people in the European region still lack access to clean and safe drinking water.

The high-level meeting in Budapest is organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, in cooperation with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Environment Program.

In addition to Alasepp, the Ministry of Social Affairs was represented by Aive Telling, head of chemical safety and environmental health, and Ramon Nahkur, adviser to the department of public health.

The primary outcome of the conference was the approval of the Budapest Declaration, in which countries pledged to accelerate efforts for a fair transition towards a more resilient, healthier, equal, and sustainable society, taking into account experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic as well.