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UN: Millions Suffer from Chernobyl Disaster - 2002-04-08

The United Nations says millions of people continue to suffer from the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident nearly 16 years after the disastrous explosion in the nuclear reactor occurred. A United Nations team of experts has just returned from the area with findings and new proposals for tackling the ongoing crisis to international donors in Geneva.

April 26 will mark the anniversary of the worldąs worst nuclear accident. 16 years after the Chernobyl disaster, the United Nations says millions of people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia continue to suffer serious health, social and economic problems. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kenzo Oshima says the United Nations has come up with a 10 year strategy for tackling and reversing this downward spiral. But he notes it will not be easy to revitalize international interest in this crisis after such a long time. "The human dimension of the Chernobyl disaster has tended to be a forgotten crisis despite the continuing nature of the very serious problems and hardship suffered by a large population," he said.

Over the last 10 years, the focus of international assistance has been on meeting basic needs such a food, medicine and hospital care. U.N. Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne says relief and humanitarian assistance is useful, but it does not address the long-term problems these people face. He says, under the new United Nations strategy, people in the affected areas will be expected to play an active role in the long-term economic, social and environmental recovery of the effected area. "That means, things that you do in other countries with respect to rural development, rural enterprise development, healthy life styles education, more work at the community level with decentralization of authority to community levels of government," he said.

Over the past decade, a great deal of research has gone on to determine the health and environmental consequences of the radiation fallout of Chernobyl. Mr. Buhne says this research mainly has benefited international scientists, and not the people living in the contaminated areas. He says there still is a lot of uncertainty as to the effects of radiation. "This uncertainty weighs very, very heavily on all the people in affected areas," he said. "And, I am defining affected areas very broadly. So, we also recommend much more long-term program of research managed by an international research board that includes leading scientists from the three affected countries as well as internationally."

The United Nations says it will work in close cooperation with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia in realizing the goals of its long-term assistance program. It estimates the cost of implementing projects over the next 10 years at $50-millon to $80-million.