The Republic of Belarus
The Chernobyl disaster had an enormous impact on
Belarus, a small country in Eastern Europe with a population of 10.4
million. 70 percent of the total radioactive fallout from the accident
descended on nearly one-fourth of the country. The fallout affected
more than 2.2 million people, including 500,000 children. Immediately
after the accident, UN system organizations sought ways to provide
emergency assistance to those exposed to massive amounts of radiation.
Also, the UN system remained actively involved in dealing with the
long-term effects of the disaster in Belarus. However, despite the
assistance the international community has provided, the region still
suffers from the consequences of Chernobyl today.
According to the data we have received, UN system organizations,
leading NGOs, and international foundations have implemented nearly 92
projects, providing $58.1 million in assistance to the Chernobyl region
since 1986. (This information does not include Chernobyl projects
implemented by the European Community and UNESCO).
In 1988, UN system organizations became involved in the region’s
recovery. In the period following the disaster, UN system organizations
focused on projects that provided immediate relief, targeting health,
environmental and agricultural issues. Close to $10 million was
allocated to these types of projects. Nuclear safety and economic
rehabilitation projects were found to be less of a priority at that
time, and received only $620,000.
NGOs and Foundations initiated projects in the Chernobyl around 1991.
Eventually, these types of organizations would account for close to 80
percent of total project expenditures, and many of these NGO’s focused
on supporting overwhelmed local health care systems. For example, the
Chernobyl Children’s Project, a non-governmental organization,
implemented projects estimated at $29.9 million, which largely focused
on the mental and physical health of those exposed to radiation. NGOs
also worked with local government to build the capacity of the Belarus
health care system to respond effectively to the crisis.
NGO and UN Projects also focused on the study and treatment of diseases
and other conditions that resulted from the disaster. Assistance went
to the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancers, the treatment of
leukemia, the study of the genetic implications of the disaster, as
well as collecting health data. The government of Belarus estimated
that thyroid cancer rates in children under 15 years rose dramatically
from 2,000 cases in 1990 to 8,000-10,000 in 2001. Hundred of thousands
Chernobyl liquidators, who were involved in the clean-up operations and
received high doses of radiation, developed a number of diseases and
required medical treatment. Already facing severe economic problems,
dealing with the Chernobyl disaster further taxed the economy of
Belarus and government spending. As a result, government assistance to
study and treat the health consequences of Chernobyl was limited.
In Belarus 20 percent of agricultural lands and 23 percent of forests
were contaminated by radionuclides. UN system organizations invested in
the use of Caesium Binders to reduce Caesium-137 found in the soil.
Rapeseed cultivation in contaminated areas helped to support
agricultural recovery. Fertilizers, which were used to combat the
effects of radionuclides, were estimated to cost nearly $77 million per
year. As a result, only large enterprises could afford to use
fertilizers and the majority (80 percent) of small households in the
affected areas continued to consume foods contaminated by radionuclides.
Organizations focused on subsidizing the cost of fertilizers and making
them available throughout agricultural areas.
After 17 years of international assistance, it is clear that millions
of people in Belarus still suffer from radioactive contamination. A
great deal of work still needs to be done. Contributions for Chernobyl
projects represent only a small amount of what is required to help
Belarus recover and develop. When projected over 30- year recovery
period, the total damage to the economy of Belarus can be estimated at
The United Nations recently announced a new focus on sustainable
development for the countries affected by Chernobyl. Efforts to address
the health effects of Chernobyl, for example, need to be undertaken in
the context of broader reform of the health care system in Belarus. The
hope is that new approaches to development in the three countries
affected by Chernobyl can empower individuals and communities, and
mobilize additional resources for recovery.