Centro de prensa

Press release

UN Report says Chernobyl disaster still hurting millions

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:

  • Resources be concentrated on mainstream services which have the greatest effect on life expectancy and general well-being, including primary health care, health education, clean water, and economic development.
  • Expanded health reform in the three countries, ensuring that services are delivered on the basis of medical need and that poor rural communities get improved care. Reformed medical services should also address the effects of social and environmental factors on health, including poverty, poor diet, alcoholism, tobacco abuse and poor living conditions.
  • Special attention to the lifetime needs of people who were infants or children at the time of the accident, lived in the areas affected by the fallout of radioactive iodine and may have contracted or be at risk of thyroid cancer, which has emerged as a primary threat.
  • Attention to research showing that the psycho-social welfare of people who stayed in their homes is better than that of those who were relocated, along with new studies examining how far the present regime of residency restrictions could responsibly be relaxed to enable a growing number of people wishing to return to make informed decisions about the risk.
  • A long-term, independent, properly funded and internationally recognized programme of research on the lasting environmental and health effects of Chernobyl.
  • Intensive economic measures aimed at expanding self-sufficiency among those most affected, along with ongoing but more focused direct support until such sufficiency is achieved. National policies that bring about an investment-friendly business environment, including village-level enterprise zones, and business development incentives in towns and cities adjacent to the most affected areas. Special emphasis must be put on the local agricultural economy.
  • Improvement of environmental policy planning, implementation and management at the local, national and transnational levels to build on lessons learned and develop innovative approaches to land use as the radiation threat diminishes over time. Ongoing and focused research on the impact of radioactive contamination on the environment, including in the water, with special attention on the impact on hunters, forestry workers, and others who rely on the land for their incomes.

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."


* * *

For further information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York, 212-326-7261; aironside@unicef.org
Robert Cohen, UNICEF Media, Geneva, 4122-909-5631
Rosemary McCreery, UNICEF Area Representative, Moscow, 7095-956-6834

UNDP: Erin Trowbridge, 212-906-5344; erin.trowbridge@undp.org
OCHA: David Chikvaidze, 212-963-9665; chikvaidze@un.org

 


 

 

 

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