Director-General's Office

Municipalities, the Best Partners for Physical Activity Promotion

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Lisbon, Portugal
4 June 2018

Boa tarde e muito obrigado!

Excellencies, Minister Adalberto Fernandes,

The President of the Portuguese Red Cross,

Distinguished guests, mayors, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a real honour for me to be here in Portugal and I’d like to thank you for your hospitality and the warm welcome you have given me. I feel a little bit closer to my home in Ethiopia here in Lisbon than I do in Geneva.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is growing.

By 2030, 6 out of 10 people will live in cities. So it’s clear that the fight for the health of humanity will be won or lost in our cities.

Cities are places where human health can either flourish, or be destroyed.

People living in cities usually have better access to health services and greater opportunities for education and employment – which are both important for good health.

But city life can also expose people to more health risks – crowded living conditions, sedentary lifestyles, more processed foods, pollution and traffic accidents.

Eight out of 10 cities globally fail to meet WHO Air Quality guidelines for air pollution.

And every year, we estimate that 3 million people die from diseases related to air pollution -- heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory diseases.

No city can continue to prosper if its inhabitants are sick.

Healthy cities breed healthy people. And the opposite is true: when people are healthy, cities and communities thrive.

As mayors, you have the power to make decisions that affect the health of millions of people.

Mayors have a responsibility to create the conditions for every resident to lead healthier, safer and more fulfilling lives.

These include good housing, better access to education and health services, and infrastructure that supports physical activity in a safe, sustainable, and healthy environment.

Healthy cities can also contribute to poverty reduction, gender equality, economic growth and productivity, and environmental sustainability.

The solutions are often simple and affordable.

Cycling networks. Car-free zones. Parks. Reliable public transport. Responsible waste management. Clean energy.

There are plenty of great examples of cities that show what is possible. The key ingredient is political commitment.

I was very impressed to read that in March this year, Portugal produced more than 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources. There are few countries in the world that can do that. Portugal is a leader in clean energy, which is vital for protecting people against air pollution.

In New York City, the leadership of Michael Bloomberg, who was the mayor at the time, was vital in implementing policies to curb tobacco use and the consumption of unhealthy beverages. He also supported the conversion of an old railway line into a walking trail with recreation areas.

As a result, life expectancy in New York City grew by more than three years and increased to 2.2 years longer than the national average. Many other cities and city leaders have followed their example.

I was glad to hear today that the average life expectancy in Portugal is higher than the OECD average. This is because of your work on NCDs.

Another city to mention is Copenhagen, with its extensive bike and transit networks, is a European model – about one third of travel in Copenhagen is by walking or bicycle. This didn’t happen by accident – Copenhagen made a bold decision in the 1980s, and is now reaping the benefits.

Curitiba in Brazil is a global model for sustainable urban transport, green spaces and waste management.

And in Colombia, Bogota started the movement of Ciclovias – closing streets to allow non-motorized travel through the city, with 170 kilometres of roads open every Sunday and public holiday for walking, cycling and recreation.

The WHO Healthy Cities Network is an important initiative for sharing lessons like these, and for strengthening political resolve.

For cities to thrive, we need to ensure that everyone has access to services that will improve their health – safe walking and cycling networks, public transport, safe and attractive outdoor public spaces, healthy foods, and, of course, affordable health services.

I want to thank all of you for your commitment to health in your cities and communities. Mayors have very important roles in shaping the cities and communities our children will inherit.

WHO is ready to work with all of you to help you build the cities of the future that nurture health for all people.

Thank you so much. Muito obrigado!