Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo
Executive Mayor: City of Ekurhuleni, Cllr Mzwandile Masina
Representative from the International Federation of Environmental Health, African region, Dr. Selva Mudaly
World Health Organisation representative, Dr. Kaluwa
Officials from government departments
Members from the South African Local Government Association
Representatives of Municipal Health Services
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen
Thobela, Sanibonani, Molweni, Good Day
We are meeting to commemorate World Environmental Health Day in a year (2021) declared as the Year of Charlotte Maxeke. It is befitting to talk about World Environment Health Day in a year that celebrates the selfless contribution of Mama Charlotte Maxeke who was a pioneer, activist, artist, intellectual, internationalist and visionary of note.
World Environmental Health Day is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the health of our environment. This day is observed on September 26, annually. This year’s International theme for Environmental Health World Day 2021 is – “Prioritizing Environmental Health for healthier communities in global recovery”.
Today, we commemorate this important day which reminds us of how our very own health being is intertwined with that of the economy and the environment within which we live, this then requires more attention from all of us, especially our communities and municipalities.
This event, the Environmental Health Day Commemoration and National Environmental Health Indaba, is an important platform for us to provide an opportunity to reflect and set course to sail towards the attainment of the objectives we set for ourselves to ensure that we protect the health of our environment. This day also allows us a chance to determine and minimize factors that deteriorate environmental health and to adopt and capitalize on ways of sustainable development.
We should therefore reflect upon all the factors that affect the health of our planet and our environment as we strive to ensure the survival of our communities. Consequently, in order to protect and advance human health, preserving and enhancing the environment’s health should be made a matter of no choice.
So, today I invite all of us to reimagine, restore and recreate a new environment, wherever we live, in line with our policies and the SDGs. The right to a health environment as enshrined in our Constitution, is an important right as it directly impacts on our quality of life with the most vulnerable suffering in most circumstances as a result of environmental abuse. We cannot continue exploiting and destroying our planet’s ecosystems.
I am certain that we all agree that for optimum health, we need environments that are safe, healthy, and supportive. Many environmental challenges, such as pollution, greenhouse effect, climate change, urbanisation, and so on, are decreasing the quality of the environment, including air, water, and food, all of which are necessary for human survival in day-to-day living.
It is generally accepted, that the environment can directly or indirectly impact on our health and wellbeing, hence government continues to discharge its responsibilities in terms of environmental management looking at good environmental governance; air quality management; waste and chemicals management, environmental impact management; conservation and biodiversity; water and sanitation; marine and coastal management.
The Constitution, amongst other things, introduced an environmental right in Section 24 within its Bill of Rights, which affords every person a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, and places a positive obligation on the State to take “reasonable legislative and other measures” to realise this right.
The Constitution places a legal obligation on municipalities to ensure that services are provided to communities in a sustainable manner and to promote a safe and healthy environment. The Constitution, Section 156, states that local government has executive authority in respect of, and the right to administer the local government matters listed in Part B of Schedule 4 and Part B of Schedule 5. In addition, provincial or national directives can assign any other Schedule 4A and 5A functions to municipalities. This is detailed in the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 and Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, 1998 (Act No 117 of 1998)
It is also important to note that the Municipal Structures Act, Sec 84 (3) states that the Minister responsible for local government may, by notice in the Government Gazette, and after consultation with the Cabinet member responsible for the functional area in question, and after consulting the MEC for local government in the province and, if applicable, subject to national legislation, authorise a local municipality to perform a function or exercise a power mentioned in subsection (1) (b), (c), (d) or (i) in its area or any aspect of such function or power,
(i.e. (a) Potable water supply systems, (c) Bulk supply of electricity, which includes for the purposes of such supply, the transmission, distribution and, where applicable, the generation of electricity, (d) Domestic waste-water and sewage disposal systems (i) Municipal health services)
I wish to remind us all that Section 31. (1) of the National Health Act No 61 of 2003 states that the relevant member of the Executive Council, after consultation with the member of the Executive Council responsible for local government in the province in question and the municipal council of the relevant metropolitan or district municipality, must establish a district health council for every health district in his or her province. It is concerning that District Health Councils have not been created in most health districts, and where they have been established, they are not functioning, resulting in poor coordination, planning, budgeting, and provision of all health services.
We should during this indaba, deliberate and find solutions to challenges that hinder the establishment and the full functioning of the District Health Councils as these health districts will allow communities to communicate with those in charge of their health, as well as allow health workers to interact with those in other sectors that have an impact on health, such as Water Affairs.
We owe our people good and proper environmental health, because it affects greater access to government-provided basic services, which are critical for poverty reduction, socioeconomic development, and health improvement, especially in rural areas and informal settlements.
Ladies and gentlemen
Environmental health issues are multi-sectoral, with some functions spanning through multiple government institutions, resulting in some circumstances in the duplication of duties and responsibilities. We continue work in the implementation of the District Development Model in order to ensure that Districts develop unique, integrated strategies that will ensure that they reach their development goals.
Closing the gap between government and the people it serves is even more important as we implement measures to ensure the protection of our livelihoods and the recovery of the economy following the impact of Covid-19.
I agree with the World Health Organisation (WHO) that we should ensure investments that are key to promoting a fairer, more sustainable economy, for an equitable, environmentally and more sustainable society, in a better, healthier and greener world (WHO, 2020).
South African voters will be going to the polls for the sixth municipal election since 1994 on 01 November 2021 to elect councils for districts, metropolitan and local municipalities in each of our country’s nine provinces. We need to recognise the unprecedented circumstances within which we find ourselves under the pandemic. Let’s all go out to the polls to elect the local representatives of our choice. Let us be ready to assist the IEC as and when they call on us to ensure free, fair and safe elections.
I also urge all of us to go and vaccinate so that we can put an end to Covid-19 and get our lives back. As leaders and members of various sectors of our society, I urge you to also convince your constituents to out and vaccinate.
I wish you fruitful deliberations and hope that you find long lasting solutions to the current challenges we are faced with as a nation, especially as regards to the health of our environment from which we are supposed to get life.
I thank you