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UN: Recovery Plan Needed For Chornobyl Zone

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 7 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A report commissioned by the United Nations recommends that the international community help Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia launch a recovery plan for the millions of people affected by the Chornobyl nuclear accident.

The report, released yesterday, calls for a new approach by the three countries that should stress a reform of health services, economic development in the affected zones, and a thorough environmental impact study.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Kenzo Oshima, told reporters the international community must remain engaged with the affected countries for the long term.

"It is incorrect to assume that with the closure of the nuclear power plant and generous funding by donors of a new shelter construction around the destroyed reactor, the international community can now close the file on the people that continue to live in the shadow of Chornobyl."

The report calls for special attention to be paid to the estimated 150,000 people who live in areas officially designated as contaminated by the 1986 accident. It says there is still conflicting information about the health impact of the accident, but UN officials say there are clear links to the rise in thyroid cancer in children since 1986.

UN officials say about 2,000 people have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the area since the Chornobyl accident and as many as 10,000 cases are expected to develop in the coming years. The report says the impact of the nuclear accident is probably aggravated by the generally poor health conditions in the region. It says a combination of poverty, poor diet, and living conditions, as well as alcohol and tobacco abuse, have made life expectancy in the region much lower than in the developed world.

The administrator of the UN Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, told reporters it is time to look at the Chornobyl aftermath as a development challenge and no longer as an emergency situation. This will require international assistance, he says. "This is a region with tremendous development problems and we have to go out and raise resources to address them."

The UN Development Program's resident coordinator in Ukraine, Douglas Gardner, cited the psychological impact on Ukrainians living near the contamination zone. He said there are some people still receiving government aid who would be better off going back to work and others who cannot work because they are forbidden to use their land.

"We see people who are not able to farm the land that they used to farm and thus they end up going out to restricted areas, harvesting wood, picking berries, all of the items that are the most contaminated, and thus the poor are in this spiral where they're the ones who are most exposed to radiation, combined with others who are, perhaps, getting benefits and [are] unable to move on to the next step."

Research for the report was carried out last summer by an independent panel of experts and was commissioned by the World Health Organization, United Nations Development Fund, UNICEF, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Oshima, the OCHA director, says the various agencies expect to present reports to the international donor community in about two to three months based on the recommendations contained in the new report. Oshima says he also plans to visit to the Chornobyl zone this spring to continue research on the issue.

(The report is available at the following website: http://www/