15 years after Chernobyl, more help needed for disaster victims: UN
"The legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and with our descendants, for generations to come," the Secretary-General said in a statement. "I appeal to Member States, non-governmental organizations and private individuals, to join with me in a pledge never to forget Chernobyl. Together, we must extend a helping hand to our fellow human beings, and show that we are not indifferent to their plight."
The nuclear disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 when two explosions destroyed a reactor at a power plant not far from the Ukrainian capital, contaminating an area of over 160,000 square kilometres with the release of 50 million units of radiation.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement today that the full humanitarian impact of the disaster is not yet known to this day, and that it may be years until many medical manifestations appear.
The greatest constraint to the efforts in dealing with the crisis has been the lack of adequate funding, with Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine shouldering most of the financial burden of helping their populations. According to OCHA chief Kenzo Oshima, who is also UN Coordinator for International Cooperation on Chernobyl, those three countries should not bear the sole responsibility for dealing with the crisis.
At a joint press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Oshima said that the international community could and should provide tangible aid to the affected people in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The need for international assistance was also emphasized by the three countries' Ambassadors to the UN -- Sergei Ling of Belarus, Valeriy Kuchinsky of Ukraine and Sergey Lavrov of Russia, who also took part in the press conference.
Meanwhile in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a statement calling the Chernobyl accident "a tragic but important turning point" in the Agency's work. "It prompted us to focus unprecedented energies and resources to assist the affected people and help ensure that such a serious accident would never happen again," said IAEA Director General, Mohammed ElBaradei.
To deal with the aftermath of the disaster, the UN set up a 19-member Inter-Agency Task Force on Chernobyl, which, together with non-governmental organizations, provides health care to people affected by radiation, psychosocial rehabilitation, job creation for resettled families, the study of radiation's environmental impact, waste disposal and decontamination, as well as technical support for improved nuclear safety.