Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz has been elected to serve on the European Environment and Health Ministerial Board of the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

At the board meeting held in Belgrade, Serbia, on Sunday, Peretz was the only minister to receive resounding applause at his election, the ministry said.

During a speech delivered to the environment and health ministers from various nations, he stressed the need for cross-border cooperation on environmental issues.

“As defense minister [2006- 2007], I saw before my eyes the interests of Israel within borders, but as the environmental protection minister, the fields under my responsibility straddle everyone’s space and involve the welfare of all the citizens of the region,” Peretz said. “Without close cooperation with our neighbors in the Middle East and among them, the Palestinians, we cannot generate a real environmental revolution. Air pollution has no boundaries, and for the river in the Judean Desert that was destroyed by sewage, it does not matter if the effluent that poisoned it came from an Israeli or Palestinian city.”

Peretz said that when he was defense minister, he sworn to uphold Israel’s security by protecting quality of life, the environment and peace. Following a Yom Kippur War injury he was confined to a wheelchair for two years, he said. When he could once again stand, he promised himself to fight for both Israeli security and the country’s integration into the Middle East.

The European Environment and Health Ministerial Board consists of four health ministers, four environment ministers and four representatives of intergovernmental organizations.

Peretz’s environmental colleagues are Belgian Environment, Land Use Planning and Mobility Minister Philippe Henry, Ukrainian Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Oleg Proskurjakov and Moldovan Environment Minister Gheorghe Salaru.

At Sunday’s ministerial board meeting, the officials discussed the 2010 Parma Declaration on Environment and Health, whose stipulations include promoting social and environmental issues such as access to water and air quality.

Peretz, who was leading a discussion among the environment ministers on the subject, acknowledged that no operative recommendations had yet been made on the subject. He therefore asked to stop the discussion and organize a meeting of the ministers outside the hall, during which they formulated an operative statement.

As part of this statement, the ministers agreed that within one month they would distribute letters to the 53 member states of the WHO European region asking that they take into account and integrate international agreements and cross-border environmental protocols described in the Parma Declaration.

The ministers also recommended that the WHO European Environment and Health Youth Coalition be expanded from 24 member states to include all 53 members, noting that each year the coalition must report on the progress of its activities to the ministerial board. In line with this decision, Peretz instructed his office to examine how Israeli youth can promote environmental and health issues within their communities.

This year, the ministerial board will place a particular emphasis on air quality and its impact on public health.

Relating to air quality, Peretz stressed the importance of promoting environmental policies that are accompanied by health and economic incentives, such as creating taxes that promote the use of greener vehicles.

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