Regional Environmental Health Action Plans (REHAPs) are necessary where joint action is needed to solve problems that are shared with neighbouring countries.
The collective agreement of countries in one region to each develop National Environmental Health Action Plans (NEHAPs) does bring added value to each country because: (a) certain environmental health problems will require international action and cooperation for their solution and this can be more easily achieved when countries are acting at the same time within a common framework; (b) the World Health Organisation and other international organisations are organised to help with the particular problems, including problems of resources, that are associated with developing a NEHAP; and (c) the experience of other countries can be brought to bear, thus making the task easier.
Because of the intersectoral nature of environmental health issues, successful and sustained implementation of NEHAPs is dependent on collaboration between partners at national and international levels.
At the Second Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, held in Helsinki in June 1994, Ministers adopted The Helsinki Declaration. The Declaration included the statement: "We endorse the Environmental Health Action Plan for Europe (EHAPE) as the means through which we may protect and conserve and improve the environment. We are committed to implementing its major thrusts as follows: We commit our respective health and environment departments to developing jointly, not later than 1997, action plans on health and the environment, working with and through competent authorities or inviting them to draw up such action plans where appropriate and legally or constitutionally required. These plans should be integrated in or closely linked with both environmental action programmes and with health planning processes, and specifically the action plans required by the UNCED follow-up and the Environment for Europe process. We will intensify cooperation with other government authorities, such as those responsible for agriculture, energy, industry, transport and tourism, in order to integrate environmental and health issues into their existing policies, as an important step towards sustainability."
The "Environment for Europe" process is based on three pillars: the Environmental Programme for Europe (EPE) , the Action Programme for central and eastern Europe (EAP), and the pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy. Together they constitute a coherent whole, a strategic approach to Europe's problems, although individually they have distinct philosophies and aims.
The Action Programme for central and eastern Europe (EAP), was developed by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to help address environmental problems in central and eastern European countries that require urgent action. It is based on a three-legged approach: policy reform, institutional strengthening and investment.
The policy for health for all in Europe in the twenty-first century (Health21), adopted by European Member States of WHO in September 1998, emphasizes the importance of considering the environmental determinants of human health and recommends strategic activities to ensure a healthy start in life. Specific recommendations are made in areas such as air quality, drinking-water and wastewater, solid waste and radiation. Target 10 in that policy states that, by the year 2015, people in the European Region should live in a safer physical environment, with exposure to contaminants hazardous to health at levels not exceeding internationally agreed standards.