|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses a General Assembly special meeting commemorating the Chernobyl disaster.|
NEW YORK, USA, 28 APRIL 2006 – At the United Nations today, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addressed a special meeting of the General Assembly in remembrance of the Chernobyl disaster.
“Few of us who are old enough to remember back two decades will ever forget Chernobyl,” said Ms. Veneman. “Twenty years ago this week, it became the site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster the world has ever known. But long after the media spotlight had died down, the effects lingered on, resulting in illness, psychological damage and impaired human development across large areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.”
The head of the UN Development Program and other UN officials, including representatives from the three most affected countries, delivered statements reflecting on the legacy of the 26 April 1986 disaster. Participants observed a minute of silence for the victims of Chernobyl during the special meeting.
Impact on children
In her speech, Ms. Veneman stressed that problems related to the health and well-being of children and young people in the areas affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe are ongoing, long after the crisis itself has passed.
“As is often the case in emergencies, children suffered a disproportionate impact,” she said. “A sharp increase in cases of thyroid cancer was reported after the accident … mainly in children and adolescents. It is clear that the increased incidence of childhood thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine fallout has been the most dramatic health impact of Chernobyl.”
Ms. Veneman added that a lack of iodine in the diets of children living in fallout areas has made them more susceptible to thyroid cancer and iodine deficiency disorders. She noted that UNICEF has been urging governments to achieve universal salt iodization in countries still feeling the effects of radiation from the explosion at Chernobyl.
Meanwhile, the UN and partner organizations are monitoring the consequences of Chernobyl and how far they extend into the future. Funding is needed for new research to clarify the effects of nuclear contamination over a period of decades – data that could facilitate the treatment of Chernobyl-related diseases and assist in agricultural development in contaminated environments.