International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Building Bridges to the Next Millenium: The Blueprints are Ready

Posted 1 April 1997 in StressPoints by Ellen Frey-Wouters, PhD, LLB

The 1990s have seen major United Nations conferences addressing important concerns of the international community: the World Summit for Children (New York, 1990), the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), the UN Conference on Human Settlements (Istanbul, 1996) and the World Food Summit (Rome, 1996). These summits drew upon earlier conferences in their respective areas. ISTSS has been involved not just in the conferences themselves, but also in the preparatory activities and in the postconference action plans in pursuit of the established goals and commitments.

The NGO Caucus on Trauma, chaired by the ISTSS representative, fought hard at the Habitat Conference for inclusion of a mental and physical health principle. The most obvious difficulty that faced the inclusion of this principle was the nature of the conference itself. For many nations, the subject of human settlements was one that should only focus on urban planning. They viewed health as a side issue, which did not belong in the document. It was not until the end of the conference that a compromise was reached and it was agreed to include a health principle in the Habitat document. The conference reaffirmed the commitment to the "full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing" and, in Principle 36, it acknowledged that "human health and quality of life are at the centre of the efforts to develop sustainable human settlements."

The declaration commits UN member states "to promoting and attaining ... the highest attainable standards of physical, mental and environmental health, and the equal access of all to health care ... Good physical and mental health throughout the life span ... is fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to develop their full capacities in health and dignity ..."

The World Food Summit, November 13­17, 1996, in Rome, Italy, adopted a Declaration on World Food Security and a Plan of Action. It was recognized that people in virtually every country suffer from hunger and malnutrition, although the extent and pattern differ substantially from country to country and region to region. The conference confirmed that hunger is unacceptable in a world of plenty. About 800 million people are undernourished today: not only people facing acute hunger, victims of conflict and natural disasters, but also people with low income and deficient purchasing power. The NGO Caucus on Trauma was active during the Rome meeting, arguing that hunger constrains human development. Inadequate nutrition results in lasting physical and mental damage.

In its 1997 Report on the World Social Situation, the UN Commission for Social Development recognizes that boundless opportunities for social progress co-exist with intense challenges and problems. International awareness of social issues has reached an unprecedented level and a new sense of urgency exists. A unique emerging partnership between the UN members states, secretariat and nongovernmental organizations has been created. ISTSS, individually and through its membership in the NGO Mental Health Committee, will be a part of a team that is trying to find solutions for the overwhelming crises that face us all. An integrated and coordinated follow-up of the UN conferences is needed. In the mental health field, we will collaborate with countries that wish to take action to help those millions of people who suffer from the reduction of their mental health. ISTSS and the NGO Committee recommended to the General Assembly, ECOSOC and UNICEF that "In all considerations, the specific words physical and mental health shall be used in place of the general term health. Specific statements shall be included recognizing the fact that a destructive and traumatic impact on mental health is inherent in situations such as war, poverty, human rights violations, oppression, violence and other conditions that destroy the quality of life. In studying and considering solutions to problems, provisions of mental health services must be included." In the implementation of the blueprints for the future, ISTSS has a challenging role in the remaining part of this century.