NEW YORK, 6 February 2002 - The United Nations called today for an entirely new approach to helping millions of people impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, saying that 16 years after the incident those affected remain in a state of "chronic dependency," with few opportunities and little control over their destinies. The UN warned that populations in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine would continue to experience general decline unless significant new measures are adopted to address health, the environment and joblessness.
These conclusions are contained in a comprehensive study of the countries and populations affected by the Chernobyl disaster, released today by the United Nations in a press conference in New York. The study, which was carried out by an international panel of experts in July-August 2001, was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and was supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
At the center of the report's findings lies the conclusion that a fundamental shift is needed in the way assistance is delivered to the people still suffering from Chernobyl, emphasizing long-term community redevelopment and empowerment. The 'Emergency Phase' of the response - emphasizing containment, relocation, and direct welfare - is now over, argues the report, and a new ten-year 'Recovery Phase' must gradually replace it. The report calls for a series of national workshops in the three countries affected to gain consensus around new approaches that emphasize basic health services, economic development, creative ecological measures, and focused international research on a series of unresolved health questions.
Among many other measures, the report proposes:
The United Nations report - entitled "The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident: A strategy for Recovery" - recognizes the lead role that has been played by the respective governments involved, and notes the enormous investment of resources that they have made into the humanitarian relief effort over the last 15 years. But it also calls on international donors and governments to continue to play an active supporting role, and sets forward a series of proposals for moving forward.
A Downward Spiral
The United Nations report sheds light on what it calls a "complex and progressive downward spiral of living conditions" affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
The study emphasizes the need for the recovery phase to focus attention on two broad groups: The first group includes some 100,000 to 200,000 people caught in the downward spiral. These are people who live in severely contaminated areas; people who have been resettled but remain unemployed; and those whose health remains most directly threatened, including victims of thyroid cancer. Some 2,000 people have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the report states that as many as 8,000 to 10,000 additional cases are expected to develop over the coming years.
The report states that this group of up to 200,000 people, spread across all three countries, is "at the core of the cluster of problems created by Chernobyl," and focusing on their needs and helping them take control of their futures must be a priority.
The second group identified for priority action includes those whose lives have been directly and significantly affected but who are already in a position to support themselves. This group has found employment, but still must be reintegrated into society as a whole so that their ongoing needs are addressed through the mainstream provision of services using criteria applicable to other members of society. This group includes hundreds of thousands of individuals.
The report also identifies a third group, encompassing millions of people, who have been indirectly impacted by the stigma, uncertainty and fatalism that have become associated with Chernobyl. This group, too, needs to be aided through clearer information and more open and continuous disclosures about the evolving situation in the region, the report argues. The report notes that some 7 million people are in some way or another recipients of state welfare connected with Chernobyl.
The three affected countries and the international community need to join forces in moving toward a new phase of recovery and sustainable development, the United Nations concludes. The aim should be to "work toward normalizing the situation of the individuals and communities concerned" using a holistic, community development approach.
According to the report, such a transition is both long overdue and absolutely essential. "Within the available budgets, it is really the only alternative to the progressive breakdown of the recovery effort, continuing hemorrhaging of scarce resources and continuing distress for the people at the centre of the problem."
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For further information, please contact:
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York, 212-326-7261; firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Cohen, UNICEF Media, Geneva, 4122-909-5631
Rosemary McCreery, UNICEF Area Representative, Moscow, 7095-956-6834