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Statement by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, at the 67th World Health Assembly on 20 May 2014, Geneva, Switzerland

May 26, 2014

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor attended the 67th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland from May 18 to 21 2014. There, Dr Khor delivered a plenary statement on the WHA theme of “Link between Climate and Health”.

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health

Dr Khor outlined Singapore’s approach to mitigating risks posed by climate change, such as extreme weather events like prolonged dry spells and transboundary haze. Her speech also underscored Singapore’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Full speech below:

Mr. President, Madame Director General,

Excellencies, Ministers for Health, Ladies and Gentlemen,

There has been for some time now, a strong and rapidly growing global and scientific consensus, that the warming of the climate system is a fact, and is affecting human health. Madame Director General even went as far to describe, and I quote, “climate change as the defining issue for public health during this century”.¹ We concur. Climate change is real and will affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health, namely water, air and food.

Singapore too, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Let me elaborate. In February this year, we have just endured our driest month on record since 1869. Climate change can also create conditions conducive to uncontrolled fires that result in air pollution. A WHO study highlighted that outdoor air pollution was responsible for the deaths of some 3.7 million people under the age of 60 in 2012.² This catapulted air pollution among the top risks to global health, alongside smoking, under-nutrition and obesity. As a land-scarce city, we are dependent on food imports, which can be affected by extreme weather events due to climate change, such as droughts and floods.

Additionally, rising temperatures are conducive for the breeding of mosquitoes. This is a concern, since the Aedes mosquitoes transmits dengue, which is endemic in Singapore and the region. Just last month, WHO launched World Health Day 2014, in recognition of the serious and increasing threat of vector-borne diseases, with the apt slogan “Small bite, big threat”. Singapore was honoured to be invited to the launch to share our dengue control strategy, highlighting our continuous efforts in the face of many obstacles, including the onset of climate change.³

We have taken action to mitigate risks that came our way. Let me give some examples. Singapore is now recognised as a leader in water technology, where about 55 percent of Singapore’s water is now desalinated or recycled.⁴ We were thus able to ramp up supplies of recycled water to keep up reservoir levels during the drought this year. Last year, Southeast Asia was hit by transboundary air pollution due to peat and forest fires, which affected several countries in the region, resulting in unprecedented poor air quality. We acted quickly to work with our neighbours to explore ways to mitigate the impact. An Inter-Agency Haze Task Force (HTF) was activated domestically to coordinate and execute action plans to mitigate the effects on our people. We have also constantly looked to expand our food source diversity all over the world to counteract our food security vulnerabilities.⁵

Climate change is a global challenge that requires global action. As countries take actions to build resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change, it is equally important for the global community to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Singapore is ready to do our part. We are committed to reduce our emissions by 7 to 11% below 2020 business-as-usual (BAU) levels. Going forward, we will reduce our emissions by 16% below BAU levels in 2020, contingent on a legally binding global agreement. Let’s all continue to work together towards that goal.

Even as we respond to the challenges of climate change, we must also continue to wage battles against other public health threats, such as communicable and non-communicable diseases, and yet never losing sight nor wavering from our commitment to enhance universal health coverage for our people. The laundry list may be long but I am seized by what Madame Director General had stressed to the Assembly two years ago, that is “the best days for (public) health are ahead of us, not behind us”.⁶

I wish you all a successful World Health Assembly. Thank you.

¹ “Climate change and health: preparing for unprecedented challenges”, the 2007 David E. Barmes Global Health Lecture delivered by WHO DG, 10 Dec 2007

² “Air quality deteriorating in many of the world’s cities”, WHO Press Release, 7 May 2014

³ In consultation with the Environmental Health Institute (EHI) from NEA and MOH, WHO invited Singapore to deliver a statement highlighting our dengue control strategy for the launch of World Health Day on 7 April 2014 in WHO HQ, Geneva. Our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ms Tan Yee Woan delivered the Statement on our behalf.

⁴ Extracted from PUB’s website

⁵ Extracted from AVA’s website

Source: Ministry of Healthhttp://app.nccs.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=1153.

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