People's Stories Advocates

Together, let’s spread the flame of Humanity and believe in the power of kindness
by Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
May 2022
A joint message from Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mercedes Babé, Standing Commission Chair, and Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Tutti Fratelli!” We are brothers and sisters, exclaimed the women of Castiglione after the devastating battle of Solferino in 1859.
With these very words, they sparked the flame of Humanity among the wounded and dying soldiers, while providing them with care and assistance, regardless of which side they had fought for. Their courage, compassion and kindness in saving lives and alleviating suffering amid the chaos of war inspired Henry Dunant, whose birthday anniversary and founding legacy of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement we celebrate today.
In the last two years, crises and disasters have spared almost no one. The COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts and violence, the climate crisis and climate-related disasters, environmental degradation, food insecurity and massive population displacements are hitting the world’s most vulnerable groups hard, and many lack the means and resources to adapt.
Against this backdrop, indifference, misinformation and hate speech are creeping into the common consciousness, which is fracturing and polarizing societies and leading to people being rejected and dehumanized.
Even those who champion the basic principles and rules of protection and assistance are not spared, with those who strive to provide care and support to people in need finding themselves the target of unjust and sometimes violent attacks. When the flame of Humanity flickers, we must be alarmed and we must act!
This 8 May is an opportunity for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our staff and 14 million volunteers worldwide to unite in our unwavering commitment to a common humanity. We also reaffirm our Fundamental Principles, which are at the heart of everything we do to assist people in need.
Our commitment mandates us to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable people, wherever they may be. When the outbreak of war or a disaster diverts the attention or generosity of the public, the media, public authorities and donors, it is to the disadvantage of millions of people affected by a protracted, forgotten or invisible humanitarian crisis.
Our Fundamental Principles carry the flame of Humanity across the world and its divides. They help to refocus the world’s attention on all people in distress. They are the basis of our solidarity with the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff in action around the world. On this 8 May, we commend their admirable work and unwavering commitment as first responders in their communities.
Together, let’s spread the flame of Humanity and believe in the power of kindness.

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Exposure to toxic substances raises the risks of premature death
by David Boyd
Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
Mar. 2022
The toxification of planet Earth is intensifying - pollution and toxic substances cause at least 9 million premature deaths a year.
As Earth becomes increasingly poisoned by toxic substances and pollution, a UN human rights expert is calling for urgent and ambitious action to curb exposures to the deadly substances, prevent pollution and rehabilitate contaminated sites.
David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said in a report presented to the Human Rights Council today that each year pollution and toxic substances cause at least 9 million premature deaths.
“They also raise the risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, adverse effects on the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems, birth defects and lifelong negative impacts on neurological development,” he said.
“Yet, hundreds of millions of tons of toxic substances continue to be released into air, water and soil annually. Pollution and toxic substances affect the enjoyment of many human rights, especially the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, but also the rights to life, health, water, food, housing, and an adequate standard of living.”
Boyd said the burden of contamination falls disproportionately on the shoulders of individuals and communities already enduring poverty, discrimination and systemic marginalization.
“The disturbing phenomenon of being more heavily affected by pollution is called environmental injustice,” he said. “Poor and marginalized communities are less likely to have access to environmental information, to participate in environmental decision-making or to have access to justice and effective remedies when their rights are jeopardized or violated.
“It is deeply distressing to see that clusters of the most heavily polluting and hazardous facilities, such as open-pit mines, smelters, petroleum refineries, chemical plants and garbage dumps tend to be located near these disadvantaged communities.”
Boyd said some areas have even been described as “sacrifice zones”, where communities suffer from extreme exposure to pollution and toxic substances. The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights more than 60 sacrifice zones from all regions of the world, communities whose inhabitants are often exploited, traumatized and stigmatized.
“While it is encouraging that there are good practices in both preventing future environmental injustices and remediating some sacrifice zones, many disturbing situations and related human rights violations remain unaddressed,” he said.
“Achieving a non-toxic environment is a human rights obligation, not an option. The recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the Human Rights Council should mark a turning point in society’s approach to pollution and toxic substances.
“The creation of sacrifice zones must be prevented and urgent action must be taken to prevent pollution, remediate contaminated sites, and provide medical treatment in such zones,” Boyd said.
The UN expert urged States and businesses to vigorously pursue zero pollution and the elimination of toxic substances. Prevention, precaution and non-discrimination must be the paramount principles in environmental policymaking, he added.
“A human rights-based approach to preventing exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals could save millions of lives, improve the quality of life for billions of people and save trillions of dollars,” he said.
May 2022
Pollution and health - The Lancet Planetary Health
The Lancet Commission on pollution and health reported that pollution was responsible for 9 million premature deaths in 2015, making it the world's largest environmental risk factor for disease and premature death. We have now updated this estimate using data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2019. We find that pollution remains responsible for approximately 9 million deaths per year, corresponding to one in six deaths worldwide.
Reductions have occurred in the number of deaths attributable to the types of pollution associated with extreme poverty. However, these reductions in deaths from household air pollution and water pollution are offset by increased deaths attributable to ambient air pollution and toxic chemical pollution (ie, lead). Deaths from these modern pollution risk factors, which are the unintended consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, have risen by 7% since 2015 and by over 66% since 2000.
Despite ongoing efforts by UN agencies, committed groups, committed individuals, and some national governments (mostly in high-income countries), little real progress against pollution can be identified overall, particularly in the low-income and middle-income countries, where pollution is most severe.
Prof Philip Landrigan, at Boston College in the US and a lead author of the analysis, said: “Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health. Preventing pollution can also slow climate change – achieving a double benefit for planetary health – and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”
Awareness of pollution was key, said Richard Fuller, at the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) in Switzerland, another lead author. He said action plans have been presented to 11 national governments to date: “Ministers are just gobsmacked at how big an impact pollution is having in their country.” Measuring pollution and making it public also drives change, he said: “It switches on communities to want to do something and yell and scream at their politicians. Everything can roll from that.”
Urgent attention is needed to control pollution and prevent pollution-related disease, with an emphasis on air pollution and lead poisoning, and a stronger focus on hazardous chemical pollution. Pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss are closely linked. Successful control of these conjoined threats requires a globally supported, formal science–policy interface to inform intervention, influence research, and guide funding.
Pollution has typically been viewed as a local issue to be addressed through subnational and national regulation or, occasionally, using regional policy in higher-income countries. Now, however, it is increasingly clear that pollution is a planetary threat, and that its drivers, its dispersion, and its effects on health transcend local boundaries and demand a global response.
Global action on all major modern pollutants is needed. Global efforts can synergise with other global environmental policy programmes, especially as a large-scale, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy is an effective strategy for preventing pollution while also slowing down climate change, and thus achieves a double benefit for planetary health.


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