UN Resolution Shifts Chernobyl Aid Focus
The United Nations General Assembly has promoted a new resolution shifting the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) emphasis on Chernobyl assistance efforts from emergency and disaster relief to rehabilitation and sustainable development.
Cihan Sultanoglu, UNDP's Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, said, “UNDP is trying to change the legacy of Chernobyl from one of despair and hopelessness to one of hope and prosperity and health.... 20 years of treating the residents of those regions as victims has created a culture of apathy.”
The intent of this policy change is to end the culture of dependency that has emerged among people living in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster, and “rebuild a sense of self-reliance.”
This announcement follows a 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) report that found the health impact of the accident was much less severe than was initially feared. The report also indicated the majority of the affected areas only suffered "low doses of radiation - doses that are close to naturally existing 'background levels'".
Let’s take a look at the WHO report first. I will agree that a large portion of the “affected areas” received much lower doses of radiation than locations closest to the Chernobyl plant. However, I wonder how the “affected areas” can be considered contaminated if they received radiation doses close to natural background levels?
Regarding the UN announcement, I do agree with a plan for rehabilitation and sustainable development, but not at the expense of those people who truly are victims of the Chernobyl tragedy. I think there should be a balanced approach, continuing the ongoing effort to help Chernobyl victims while also providing for rehabilitation and new development.
There are victims from the Chernobyl disaster, and it would be a shame to turn our backs on them and say they are no longer victims just because 21 years have passed since the accident. It will be interesting to see how the UN implements their plan. If their approach completely changes, I hope it will not occur abruptly, but be implemented gradually over the coming years.
Help from Aid Organizations
In regards to rehabilitation and sustainable development, for quite some time, I have felt many aid organizations could better spend some of their money by helping provide Chernobyl-affected communities with improved infrastructure such as sanitary systems, clean wells, gas lines, etc. This help is long overdue. Blogger MoldovAnn, Programme Officer for the UN Volunteer Programme in Ukraine provides an facinating commentary about this very issue in her October 15 blog post, Chornobyl Legacy.
Ann points out that many aid organizations want to help people, but shy away from more remote locations. They are also more likely to provide money and support for a tragedy. This last point concerns me regarding potential consequences of the UN decision related to other aid organizations. By removing the labels “emergency” and “disaster” from Chernobyl, some organizations may stop providing aid. Therefore, this UN decision could inadvertently be lessening much-needed aid to the area.
The unfortunate reality of Chernobyl’s aftermath is that thousands of people suffered major health consequences that continue to this day. Some survivors are severely crippled, while others are able to live in their own homes most of the time, but still require weeks of medical attention in hospitals several times a year. Most of the time, these people barely have enough strength to get through a “normal” day. For example, my friend Lyubov, a former Pripyat resident, rarely feels well enough to write me a normal-length letter.
The incident at Chernobyl was, is, and always will be a disaster. The affected areas are located in the countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation. Ukraine and Belarus are definitely poorer countries that do not have proper financial resources to deal with the Chernobyl aftermath on their own. They need our help. No matter how you look at it, the people living in the affected areas (and former residents now living outside those areas) are very much victims of this tragedy and still need our help.
I believe the balanced approach I previously mentioned would be best in this situation. Hopefully UNDP feels the same way.
I am not sure if she will agree with everything I have said, but I want to thank Kathy Ryan from Chernobyl Children’s Project International for inspiring me to write about this subject.