Dr. Paul F. Walker, Director of the Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability Programme, chaired a special Green Cross session at the 14th World Congress on Public Health, in Kolkata, India, on 14 February.
The recent use of chemical weapons and toxic industrial chemicals in the Syrian civil war, with thousands of innocent civilians killed and injured, has once again illustrated the threat of inhumane, indiscriminate, and banned weapons of mass destruction to humankind, the environment, and public health.
Numerous industrial accidents and catastrophes, such as the nuclear reactor meltdown at Fukushima, Japan in 2011 and earlier chemical industry disasters in Seveso, Italy and Bhopal, India, also underline the extreme importance of safety and security for high-risk industrial sites, facilities, and transportation.
The Green Cross panel included well-known experts from the global non-proliferation and threat reduction world, including Mr. Philippe Denier, the verification director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the director of threat reduction and Global Partnership activities for the US State Department. The experts discussed current threat assessments – including nuclear, radioactive, chemical, biological, and related toxic materials. They also talked about recent progress, including the expanding reach of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). They advocated universal treaty ratification and implementation, both for the sake of global security, and to protect public health and the environment.
Dr. Walker provided an overview of the close relationship between international security, environmental protection, public health, and sustainability, which is often overlooked in traditional academic analyses. He also shared a statement from the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Dr. Lassina Zerbo, who had not been able to attend in person.
Ambassador Jenkins focused on the Global Security Health Agenda – especially on current efforts in Africa, relationships with the World Health Organization, disease surveillance, and public health.
The OPCW’s Philippe Denier addressed the importance of the CWC to building a world free of chemical weapons and ensuring that such prohibited weapons never re-emerge. He also discussed the recent destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile and programme.
One of the primary themes of the World Congress was to show the benefits of sustainable development to public health, which in turn requires non-violence and demilitarization. Walker noted that: “bringing some 1,600 professional public health experts from over 80 countries to Kolkata was an excellent way to both network and get our messages out on peace, sustainable development, and health.” The next World Congress will take place in Melbourne, Australia in 2017. The final statement from the Congress is available at http://www.wfpha.org/.