Modern living offers many conveniences but increasingly comes at the price of our health and our wellbeing. How we live, eat, work, play and organize our communities impact our climate, health and wellbeing. Rising challenges such as obesity and non-communicable diseases need to be urgently addressed. Failing to do so will mean that for the first time, we will see a generation living shorter and less productive lives than the generation before them.
Take for example how we design our cities. For generations, we designed them for cars more than for people. The effect is that people have been left with little opportunity to walk, run or bike as part of their daily routines. In some cities, you can “drive-through” the pharmacy, but there’s no pedestrian walkways. With more cars and polluting industries, something as essential as breathing has become a health hazard in cities such as New Delhi, where half of all children have some form of respiratory illness due to air pollution. Add to that the elevated traffic noise which places us in a constant state of stress, unrest and sleeplessness, and you have a seriously toxic cocktail.
And there is more. The local food markets have also disappeared from many – often poorer – parts of our cities, leaving “food deserts” in their wake. Instead we can – conveniently – buy cheap, fast and highly processed food with high levels of saturated fats, salt and sugar. And while (most) cars have no good or bad days, but need a parking space, nature has also had to give way to stone deserts where green oases are few and far between. This despite the fact that several studies have proven that nature makes us healthier, happier people.
The result? We are getting more obese, we develop more lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases, and more and more people develop stress and mental health problems. In fact, with the rising curves for these 21st century health challenges, there is no way we will be able to treat our way out of them.
Achieving SDG 3: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all, requires that we embrace the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges facing the planet and its people. Equitable access to clean water, clean air, safe, healthy and nutritious food, and affordable quality healthcare are underlying drivers for long-term health and wellbeing, as is the opportunity to live in health-promoting communities – in cities, schools and workplaces. That makes health everyone’s business.
That’s why the United Nations Global Compact recently convened a broad coalition of leading businesses, United Nations, academic and civil society partners to set a global business and partner agenda for SDG 3. One of the tasks we have given ourselves is to explore collective impact opportunities, taking a systems approach to co-creating health resilient communities through transformational partnerships.
Our starting point will be to place people, their happiness and wellbeing, central to our explorations, looking at cities and their livability as the nexus for development and experimentation. The good news is that by getting to the root cause of what drives climate change and ill health, we will also be able to deliver multiple co-benefits for people and the communities in which they live, creating business cases for investing in community solutions that deliver sustainable impact.
We are inviting cities to join us in an exploration of how new constellations of transformational partnerships can deliver health and climate resilience. Our aim is to set an agenda for communities who are more livable, businesses that are more successful and citizens who are healthier and happier.