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Press Release


  September 14, 2006

“Democracy cannot be sustained when 140 million people in the hemisphere today lack access to adequate sanitation services,” Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States (OAS) stressed as he called on governments, civil society and the private sector to collaborate on “specific, tangible and cooperative measures that make a difference.”
The Secretary General’s remarks came as he inaugurated an OAS Panel on Environmental Trends and Good Governance, at OAS headquarters today. The participants included government representatives, the development community, international financial institutions, technical personnel, environmental advocacy groups and civil society. Scott Vaughan, Director of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, introduced the Secretary General and outlined the objectives of the panel to help OAS member states prepare for the upcoming First on Sustainable Development, to be held October 5-6 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
“Democracy will not endure when 75 million people lack access to clean drinking water, and over 80 million people in Latin America breath air-pollutant levels that exceed WHO guidelines. The vast majority of those exposed to dirty air and dirty water are also the poorest communities of the region, plagued by generations of injustice and exclusion,” he added.
Insulza stressed that environmental degradation cannot be separated from core developmental priorities. “Nor can they be divorced from the region’s international relations.” Noting a key aim of the meeting to “underscore the absolute urgency of mainstreaming environmental protection, risk reduction in natural disasters,” he insisted that environmental degradation will affect the tenacity and fabric of democratic foundations.
The Secretary General lamented the lack of urgency and priority to environmental protection and sustainable development issues which, he said, “frankly are not regarded as a priority in most organizations or countries,” while degradation continues to take its toll. “Scientists are warning that malaria and other communicable diseases will in all probability increase because of changes in average temperatures, rainfall patterns and other factors linked with climate change,” he asserted.
Underscoring the value of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment being discussed at today’s forum, the Secretary General identified as one of its major contributions the link initiative makes between “robust scientific diagnostic that tracks the scale of environmental destruction” and the economic implications of environmental loss and human health. Accordingly, he cited the erosion of production top-soils that, along with deforestation and an alarming loss of biological diversity, have had profound economic and development implications, including for the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farm workers.
The OAS forum was divided into two panels examining: Environmental Trends and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment; and Governance, Public Participation and Environmental Management. Moderating the first panel, Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, President of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, explained scientific findings pointing to an alarming rate of environmental degradation. He also underscored the implications of population increases, noting that in another 50 years, world population is projected to be between 8 and 11 billion. This panel also heard contributions from Dr. Cristian Samper, Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, based in Washington, D.C, and from Dr. Guillermo Castilleja, Senior Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund.
Issues related to Governance, Public Participation and Environmental Management were addressed by a panel of four: Ruth Greenspan Bell, Resident Scholar/Director, Program for International Institutional Development and Environmental Assistance , Resources for the Future; Karin M. Krchnak, Director of International Water Policy, the Nature Conservancy; Daniel B. McGraw, President, Center for International Environmental Law; and Charles Di Leva, Chief Counsel, World Bank.
The one-day panel also includes an open discussion involving the other participants in the audience.

Reference: E-191/06