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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 $235 billion.

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.


 

 
     

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