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Chernobyl: UN switches assistance efforts to focus on economic self-reliance

Chernobyl: UN switches assistance efforts to focus on economic self-reliance

More than two decades after the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in Chernobyl, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says it is working to end the “culture of dependency” that had emerged among people living near the site and to promote greater economic self-reliance and prosperity.

Cihan Sultanoglu, UNDP’s Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, told reporters today that “we are already seeing grounds for optimism” about the ability of people living in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus to take control of their economic destiny.

“UNDP is trying to change the legacy of Chernobyl from one of despair and hopelessness to one of hope and prosperity and health,” she said.

Ms. Sultanoglu said that for too long, relief efforts in the three countries worst affected by the April 1986 disaster had led to a culture of dependency that also fostered apathy and fatalism.

Some five million people live in areas deemed by contaminated by radioactive waste from the reactor, and unemployment remains high, investors still largely shun the affected region and many young people move elsewhere in search of jobs and opportunities.

Yet since 2004 UNDP has taken the lead in promoting efforts to encourage the communities to devise and then implement their own ideas for projects to help in recovery.

Ms. Sultanoglu said the agency’s focus on socio-economic development meant a shift in emphasis from emergency and disaster relief to rehabilitation and sustainable development in which local communities set their own priorities and UNDP helps fund and support them.

“We see our role at the United Nations as assisting national governments to create new jobs, to promote investments, support small and medium businesses and to rebuild a sense of self-reliance among the communities affected by the accident.”

Already UNDP is involved in projects that have provided microcredit to small businesses in Russia, helped over 170 Ukrainian villages with job-creation schemes and formed part of a consortium in Belarus to promote sustainable development.

Tomorrow the General Assembly is expected to consider a resolution that would proclaim the period until 2016 as a “decade of recovery and sustainable development” for territories in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine affected by the accident, and to help those communities make “a return to normal life.”

The Chernobyl accident, in which explosions destroyed the core of one of the site’s reactors, forced more than 330,000 people to leave their homes, infected over 5,000 children with cancer and left millions of people across the former Soviet Union and the rest of Europe deeply worried about their health and livelihoods.