1 May 2006
In Observance of 20th Anniversary of Chernobyl Disaster, General Assembly Reflects on Suffering of Victims, Heroism of Responders, Lessons Learned
Acting Assembly President Stresses Importance of Safe Use of Nuclear Power, Credible Information in Event of Crises, Public Participation in Decision-Making
NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- Marking the twentieth anniversary of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, the General Assembly this morning reflected on the suffering of the victims of Chernobyl and the selfless heroism of those who responded, and urged that the hard lessons learned from the catastrophe never be forgotten.
The Assembly heard telling testimony about the suffering caused by the Chernobyl disaster, said Acting General Assembly President Hamidon Ali ( Malaysia). It had also been encouraged to learn the lessons of Chernobyl. Those lessons applied not only to the importance of safe use of nuclear power, but also to the vital necessity of providing the public with credible and transparent information in the event of any crisis, and to ensuring broad public participation in decisions involving any potentially hazardous technology.
Noting that the legacy of the accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe remained strong, he said the effects of radioactive contamination were still being felt, 20 years later, in the affected region. As the Assembly observed the twentieth anniversary of the catastrophe, it should also look forward and pay attention to the continuing needs of the affected region. "May today's event also serve to remind us of the need for international solidarity, whenever or wherever international disasters occur. In today's world, the crucial challenges are borderless."
Many of those addressing the meeting believed the best way for the international community to pay homage to those who suffered from Chernobyl was to provide generous support to programmes designed to help traumatized communities regain self-sufficiency, and affected families resume normal, healthy lives.
Kemal Derviş, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that livelihoods lost 20 years ago had not yet been recovered, and many communities had sunk into resignation and apathy. For UNDP, the biggest challenge now facing affected territories was the need to create new jobs, promote investment and growth, restore a sense of community self-reliance and improve local living standards. In short, the region needed sustainable social and economic development. While the anniversary was filled with sadness, it was a time for hope, as the international community moved forward in building a better future for all those whose lives had been changed by the tragedy.
Several speakers highlighted one of the major health consequences of the disaster, namely the significant increase in thyroid cancer among the population of the affected areas, particularly among children and adolescents.
"We should not forget that this type of tumour is normally very rare in children and adolescents, but in some areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia it is on average 16 times higher than in countries not affected by a nuclear accident", stated Raymond Forde, Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He urged that research and dialogue on such important issues continue with the close participation of people living in the areas close to Chernobyl.
Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus, said today's event was an encouraging sign that the international community had not forgotten the many people affected by the accident and that the incident had not become "a mere footnote in the history of civilian nuclear energy". A tragic and ironic twist of fate had made Belarus, the smallest of the three most affected countries, the one that had taken the hardest hit by the nuclear disaster. Indeed, 70 per cent of the deadly fallout from Chernobyl's meltdown had settled over Belarus, and today, one-fifth of the country remained contaminated.
Noting that Belarus efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals were dogged by a lingering, sinister radioactive shadow, he hoped Member States would support initiatives to address the challenges facing the most affected countries. Key challenges for his country included keeping a close and comprehensive watch over the medical and environmental consequences of the disaster, in the long term.
Statements were also made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Uganda (on behalf of African States), Lao People's Democratic Republic (on behalf of Asian States), Slovenia (on behalf of Eastern European States), Chile (on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States), France (on behalf of Western European and other States), United States (as host country), Austria (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Japan, China, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil.
The Assembly also heard from the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the representative of the European Commission.
Also today, the Assembly was informed that Papua New Guinea and Seychelles had made the necessary payments to reduce their arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter.
[Article 19 of the United Nations Charter states that a Member State in arrears in its contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of the arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contribution due from it for the preceding two years.]
The next meeting of the Assembly will be announced.
The General Assembly met this morning to hold a special commemorative meeting in observance of the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe.
HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), Acting President of the General Assembly, opened the meeting by recalling that, on 26 April 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Since then, Chernobyl had become a symbol of a shattering human tragedy and devastating environmental damage.
Today, the Assembly had gathered to honour the memory of the victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe, he said. It was also an occasion to remember the heroism of the emergency workers who had responded in the days following the disaster; the deprivation of more than 330,000 residents of the area who had been evacuated from contaminated regions; and the suffering of millions of people living in affected areas, who, over the past two decades, had had to cope with the physical and psychological effects of the accident.
Alongside Governments, non-governmental organizations and other international organizations, the United Nations and its funds, programmes and agencies had been involved in Chernobyl relief and recovery efforts from the very beginning. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the assistance efforts of the United Nations family were naturally targeted to meet the wide-scale humanitarian needs. Over time, the emphasis of those efforts had shifted, and the United Nations family had since 2002 focused on promoting the social and economic development of the affected communities.
The legacy of the Chernobyl catastrophe remained strong, he noted. The effects of radioactive contamination were still being felt 20 years later in the affected region. There were ongoing international efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. He recognized the important contributions of the Chernobyl Forum, a collective effort by eight organizations within the United Nations system and the Governments of the most affected countries -- Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine -- to analyze the health, environment and socio-economic impact of the nuclear accident.
As the Assembly observed the twentieth anniversary of the catastrophe, it should also look forward and pay attention to the continuing needs of the affected region, he said. "May today's event also serve to remind us of the need for international solidarity, whenever or wherever international disasters occur. In today's world, the crucial challenges are borderless."
KEMAL DERVIŞ, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that, as the United Nations coordinator of international cooperation on Chernobyl, he was pleased that the United Nations had been able to play a prominent role in the many commemorative events to mark the solemn anniversary. Chernobyl was a devastating tragedy. The loss and pain caused by it should never be forgotten. The impact of the accident and the policies adopted to mitigate its consequences had been compounded by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Livelihoods lost 20 years ago had not yet been recovered, and many communities had sunk into resignation and apathy.
It was important to remember, however, that, while it was undoubtedly a sad commemoration, it was not a hopeless one, he said. Much had been done to cope with the legacy of Chernobyl. The initial cover-up, however, had endangered millions of people, leaving a deep legacy of mistrust among those who had been denied timely, credible information. That said, both the Soviet Government and, after 1991, the newly independent States of Belarus, the Russian Federation and the Ukraine had devoted vast resources to protecting the population from the effects of radiation and mitigating the consequences of the accident. Those efforts had been largely successful.
During the last two decades, the Governments and peoples of the affected region had enjoyed the support of a broad range of United Nations initiatives, he said. Much more remained to be done, however, to promote the region's recovery. Renewed efforts should gain new impetus from the findings of the United Nations Chernobyl Forum. The Forum, an authoritative body comprised of eight United Nations agencies and the three most-affected Governments, recently concluded that, most of the five million people who lived in the Chernobyl-affected areas, did not need to live in fear of radiation. Many of the areas previously designated as contaminated were now suitable for habitation.
For UNDP, the biggest challenge now facing affected territories were the need to create new jobs, promote investment and growth, restore a sense of community self-reliance and improve local living standards, he said. In short, the region needed sustainable social and economic development. There were many success stories worldwide that the region could emulate. While the anniversary was filled with sadness, it was a time for hope, as the international community moved forward in building a better future for all those whose lives had been changed by the tragedy.
ANN VENEMAN, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that few people who were old enough to remember the events of 20 years ago would forget the Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster the world had ever known. The effects of Chernobyl lingered on, resulting in impaired human development across large parts of the three most affected countries. The world had worked to respond to the complexity of the disaster. Some 600,000 emergency and recovery workers laboured to address the effects of the disaster.
The problems related to children and young people were ongoing, she noted. As was the case in most humanitarian disasters; children suffered a disproportionate impact. The accident had resulted in a sharp increase in thyroid cancer among children and adolescents. In a cruel irony, just as iodine deficiency had made children more vulnerable 20 years ago, iodine deficiency was the world's leading cause of mental retardation and a threat to pregnant women and young children. Dealing with iodine deficiency effectively was simple and low-cost. Today, only 55 per cent of households in Belarus, for example, consumed iodized salt, meaning that, every year, an estimated 41,000 children in Belarus were born iodine deficient. A commitment to action was needed from the leaders of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and the international community stood ready to help. An alliance among various sectors of society was needed to make sure that every household knew the benefits of iodized salt and could find it in their stores.
In 2002, UNDP and UNICEF had commissioned a report on the humanitarian consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. The report's recommendations guided the response of the United Nations system to the needs of the affected area. The United Nations was now shifting its support from direct humanitarian assistance to sustainable development for the long term. It was also responding to the psychological impact of the disaster. UNICEF was working to educate children about healthy lifestyles and to give hope for a positive future. The harsh reality of Chernobyl was that its effects lingered in the ground and in the minds of the people. The international community must commit to preventing further harm to those in the affective area.
ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) thanked all the delegations that had participated in today's special commemorative meeting on Chernobyl, saying the event was an encouraging sign that the international community had not forgotten the many people affected by the tragic 1986 accident, and that the incident had not become a mere footnote in the history of civilian nuclear energy. A tragic and ironic twist of fate had made Belarus, the smallest of the three most affected countries, the one that had taken the hardest hit by the nuclear disaster. Indeed, 70 per cent of the deadly fallout from Chernobyl's meltdown had settled over Belarus and, today, one fifth of the country remained contaminated by radionuclides.
United Nations experts had estimated the overall damage at some $235 billion. It could be said, he added, that Belarus was one of the few countries whose efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals were dogged by a lingering, sinister radioactive shadow. Along with the Second World War, the Chernobyl disaster had scarred the very soul of Belarus and its people, who were affected by the aftermath of both events even to this day. Nevertheless, much had been done to ameliorate Chernobyl's after effects by Belarusians themselves, with more than $17 billion spent to address post-Chernobyl issues, as well as some 140,000 people relocated. Those achievements had been accompanied by much-needed assistance from Belarus foreign partners, both Governments and civil society.
Looking ahead at ways to boost global efforts to address the challenges facing the most affected countries, he said that a recent Minsk conference had suggested proclaiming the years 2006-2016 the "international decade for the recovery and sustainable development of the regions affected by the Chernobyl disaster". Belarus hoped Member States would support that initiative, and that UNDP would play the leadership role in its implementation. Key challenges for Belarus included keeping a close and comprehensive watch over the medical and environmental consequences of the disaster for the long term, he said, adding his Government's thanks to countries that had assisted in relevant research studies.
He said that diagnostics and early detection of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, especially in children, was one of Belarus biggest concerns. To address that task effectively, his country badly needed modern medical equipment, he said. But, even while facing myriad challenges, Belarus had much to share with the world regarding its experience with the Chernobyl disaster. In that regard, Belarus experience could be put to better use in the scientific community. On the "long-brewing" issue on enlarging the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, he said that, for many years, the composition of that panel remained unchanged, despite new challenges and problems that had arisen in the field of radiation protection.
The Minsk Conference had suggested to the General Assembly that the issue should be urgently addressed. Indeed, Belarus and other countries affected by the Chernobyl disaster should be adequately represented on that Committee, he said. Strongly expressing the self-reliance and resilience of the Belarusian people, he said that, while they expected relatively little from the "outside world", what Belarus really needed was honest engagement on the matter. What it hoped for was an international decade of sincere human attention and solidarity with the people who continued to confront the dangers of Chernobyl.
Belarus hoped for a wider understanding of the fact that the disaster had never been a local or regional issue, but a global challenge, a global concern, he declared. Indeed, the twentieth anniversary of the event had rekindled the heated international debate on the scale and gravity of the Chernobyl disaster, as well as its lasting consequences. And, while the Vienna United Nations Chernobyl Forum had highlighted the needed for a "sophisticated and balanced approach" in the matter, what was also clear was how little "we all know and how much we have to learn about things we thought we have fully mastered". He added "Whether or not we have the courage to admit it, by attempting to harness the most powerful available energy source, humankind has unleashed unknown risks and dangers."
IGOR SHCHERBAK (Russian Federation) said the Chernobyl nuclear power plant continued to be a potential source of danger in Europe, and the international community needed to muster its scientific, technical and financing capacity to minimize this threat in the near future. Comprehensive radiation clean-up, as well as the economic and social rehabilitation of the affected areas, was needed to address the consequences of the terrible disaster.
He said that, after the Chernobyl disaster, more than 59,000 square kilometres, covering 14 regions of the Russian Federation, had been contaminated. Three million Russian people lived in those areas. The most contaminated regions in Russia at present were Bryanskaya, Tulskaya, Orlovskaya and Kaluzhskaya oblasts. He said that a key element of the Chernobyl mitigation policy of the Russian Government was the consistent integration of the radiation factor into all activities, in order to fully rehabilitate the affected territories.
He said Russia has attached great importance to the catalytic and coordinating role of the United Nations, as the international community worked to provided assistance in the field of health, help rehabilitate agriculture and promote the information exchange network. Russia viewed the consensual adoption of the General Assembly resolution in November 2005 and its unprecedented number of cosponsors, 69, as the international community's expression of solidarity with the efforts of the affected countries.
He also stressed the need for the international community to strengthen its response capacity to technological disasters, particularly those associated with radioactive accidents. He said the readiness of the Ministry for Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation to explore international cooperation in that area was well known.
VOLODYMYR KHOLOSHA, Deputy Minister of Emergency for the Ukraine, said his country aligned itself with the statement that would be made later by Austria, on behalf of the European Union.
He thanked the international community for its efforts in helping Ukraine after the Chernobyl disaster, and hoped it would continue to offer concrete measures to help mitigate the disaster's effects. He also thanked the international community for its support given through the General Assembly resolution passed last November. During its years of independence, Ukraine had worked to develop solutions to protect its population and clean up the environment.
He noted that 3 million people were affected by the disaster, and 10 per cent of the country's land was affected by radiation, as 164,000 people had been forced to move out of 170 towns and leave their homes to go live elsewhere. The Ukraine had had to appeal for resources to resolve the problems. He noted that, for some years, the Ukraine had had to spend 12 per cent of its State budget for measures, such as improved medical services and environmental clean-up. He thanked the international community for its support.
He said the disaster had been a threat to the whole world, and the Ukraine had closed down the nuclear power plant. That act had been carried out by an independent Ukrainian State, which counted on the international community for its support and understanding.
He said that there had been no consensus on the disaster's health impact, and health assessments must be continued. Channels of international cooperation should be used to ensure that the "hand of evil" would not be raised against the planet, and that such an event would not happen in the future.
In reading a statement by the Ukrainian President, the Minister said the Chernobyl disaster had called upon the international community to come together for peace and the safety of mankind in the future.
FRANCIS K. BUTAGIRA (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said today's commemoration was significant, for it reminded the international community to continue its generosity to the affected population. The most affected countries -- Belarus, the Russian Federation and the Ukraine -- had, since 1986, along with donor countries, undertaken to mitigate the consequences of the disaster. The African Group supported the efforts being undertaken and expressed solidarity with the affected populations.
He encouraged continued financial, technical and scientific assistance to minimize the consequences of the accident, as well as continued international and national cooperation and coordination of efforts to handle the developmental, environmental, social, economic and health aspects, in that regard. That included coordination of the United Nations system response to the residual problems associated with Chernobyl, as part of the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as community development, building infrastructure, providing health care and healthy lifestyles, radiation mitigation and standard setting, reactor safety, and timely and dependable scientific research on the impact of the radiation.
ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People's Democratic Republic), speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Asian Group, expressed the sincere condolences and support of the Asian Member States of the United Nations to the Governments and peoples of the countries that had suffered from the Chernobyl disaster. He noted, for example, that more than 10 per cent of Ukraine's territory had been exposed to radioactive contamination, and about 160,000 people from 170 towns had had to leave their homes forever.
He said the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe was an important opportunity to assess the international community's efforts to meet the continued needs of the people most affected by the accident, in Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation. These solemn events reminded people of how the tragedy had left deep human scars and far-reaching socio-economic, health and environmental damage. The event also helped o remind people of the need for international solidarity, whenever and wherever international disasters struck.
ROMAN KIRN (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said General Assembly resolution 45/190 called for international cooperation to address and mitigate the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, thus paving the way for coordinated and strengthened international efforts to address environmental emergencies in the future. He said the establishment of the new Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was also a significant step in improving the United Nations emergency response capacity for addressing disasters and conflicts.
Still, several million people continued to live in the affected areas and suffered from complex humanitarian, environmental, medical, psychological and economic consequences. Many children, including those born after the explosion, suffered from physical and psychological harm. The international community must take the necessary moral and financial measures to further assist victims in radioactive contaminated zones in their daily lives and development recovery programmes. Enhanced public awareness of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe continued to be crucial.
HERALDO MUÑOZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, paid tribute to the victims of the disaster, as well as the public servants and humanitarian organizations who had rushed to support them. The Chernobyl tragedy had unsettled countries' sense of national security and international complacency. It had showed that "zero risk" did not exist in nuclear activity, and that mutual trust was the fundamental basis of international security. The disaster had resulted in the prompt negotiation of the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Early Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident. The lessons learned from Chernobyl were not only in the sphere of nuclear security. The most important of them must be the capacity to anticipate, a lesson that must be applied in all humanitarian situations, ranging from pandemics to disasters.
The principal actors of the tragedy and its recovery were those affected, he noted. The international community had also played, and continued to play, an important role in providing aid to the victims, and for the recovery and reconstruction of the devastated communities. The best tribute that could be bestowed to the victims was a serious approach to strengthening the humanitarian capacity of the United Nations, a goal to which his regional group was committed.
MICHEL DUCLOS (France), speaking on behalf of the Western European and other States, said 20 years had gone by since the Chernobyl tragedy, which was present in both the individual and collective memory. Today, the thoughts of those gathered went first to those men and women who continued to suffer from the radiological consequences of the disaster, mainly in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. There was continued concern for the health problems affecting so many men, women and children. There was also awareness of the environmental, economic and social consequences of the disaster. It was not possible to erase a tragedy of such proportions, or even possible to remedy it. But it was important to note that solidarity for the victims and assistance by the international community had been on a major scale.
He said many States had taken part in an unprecedented effort, especially to mitigate the pollution of the environment and assess health effects, in order to deal with them and implement social and development programmes for nuclear safety. The discussion on the real impact of the disaster should encourage the international community to consolidate efforts for the health of the people, rehabilitation and nuclear safety at the plant. Ultimately, the objective was to allow for the sustainable development of the area around Chernobyl. In terms of nuclear safety, special importance must be given to the respect of all of their international commitments. He called, in particular, for the respect of commitments in the framework of the Group of Eight (G-8) to complete conversion projects, and projects to make the Chernobyl site safe. It was urgent to begin the work to implement the project for the second shelter at the number 4 reactor at the plant. It was appropriate today to recall Chernobyl. At the same time, it was important to reassert the collective determination to limit its impacts and prevent similar events of that nature.
RICHARD MILLER (United States) said his delegation joined others in paying tribute to the lives lost and communities destroyed in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, and would especially salute the heroic actions of those who had responded to the accident, saving the lives of others through their sacrifice. He emphasized that the aftermath of the disaster still plagued the region; the massive social disruption and economic hardships that had resulted in the forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, still persisted to this day. And lingering fear and uncertainty associated with Chernobyl-related issues continued to weigh heavily on the daily lives of the affected population.
Since 1992, the United States had provided some $235 million in humanitarian commodities to the neediest populations in Belarus, including medical supplies and equipment, as well as food and clothing. Over the same period, his Government had delivered $582 million in humanitarian commodities to the Ukraine, approximately half of which had been targeted to those affected by Chernobyl, particularly children. The United States had also worked closely with Ukraine and the wider international community on nuclear safety issues -- at the Chernobyl site and elsewhere in the region and beyond.
Among the global efforts within the framework of the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding between the then Group of Seven countries and Ukraine, he noted that, with the closure of the last operating reactor at Chernobyl in 2000, the safety for Ukraine's people and the people of the entire region had been improved. He also said the Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP) was another key nuclear safety element of the Memorandum of Understanding. By transforming the deteriorating sarcophagus that currently covered the destroyed reactor, the Plan would provide an environmentally safe ending to another chapter of the Chernobyl tragedy.
GERHARD PFANZELTER (Austria), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the radiological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe had left a terrible legacy that had created serious health problems, as well as environmental, economic and social problems.
He noted the considerable assistance provided by the local and international communities. The European Union had contributed hundreds of millions of Euros, covering everything from the assessment and mitigation of the environmental contamination to the evaluation of the disaster's health effects and their treatment, as well as nuclear safety. He said non-governmental organizations and individuals in the European Union countries had also worked tirelessly to help alleviate the human and social effects of the Chernobyl disaster.
He said the current commemoration and the accompanying media coverage could help Governments and private donors to keep providing assistance to the victims. He said the Chernobyl catastrophe was a lesson to nations and the international community regarding the new opportunities and challenges offered by science. An international early warning system, as well as sharing information was essential, and the preparation of response plans in emergency situations could help save lives.
KENZO OSHIMA (Japan) said that, 20 years ago, the world had witnessed one of the most terrible accidents in history. The Chernobyl accident was a horrendous tragedy because of the direct human cost, the large tracts of land poisoned, the scale of population displacement, the loss of livelihood, and the trauma suffered by the people. "We must not forget the Chernobyl disaster; we must not lose the important lessons learned from that terrible disaster with the passage of time."
Although much of the news coverage had disappeared from the international media and public interest might have waned, the truth remained that, still, many of the affected people, their families and their communities, continued to suffer in various forms. At the Chernobyl Forum, health and environmental experts, under the leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), had found the rate of thyroid cancer among the affected populations was not as high as had been expected. That was an encouraging finding. Nevertheless, health hazards were now more insidious. In addition, there was woefully inadequate knowledge among the victims about the perils that they and their offspring faced. There were concerns about the environmental impacts of the radiation, as well as continuing difficulties faced by the afflicted communities arising from economic and social dislocation caused by the disaster.
Numerous efforts had been made by the Governments affected and the international community, he noted. But clearly there was much more that could and should be done to assist those in need, to undertake more research into radiation-related diseases and environmental and other impacts. "The twentieth commemoration of the Chernobyl disaster this year is a unique opportunity to renew our individual and collective resolve to keep alive the legacy of this most terrifying man-made disaster and keep it on the international agenda."
For several decades now, Japan had studied the impact of exposure to radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accumulating extensive knowledge of the subject, he said. The Japanese people felt sympathy and solidarity with all those affected by the Chernobyl accident and were eager to share their knowledge and experience. A series of events was being held in Japan to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the catastrophe in Chernobyl, and with strong popular support, the Japanese Government was committed to continuing to address its long-term effects.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said his Government extended its condolences to the countries affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and added that people residing in the affected areas were traumatized by fear and afflicted by higher levels of cancer. He added that the environmental and social effects of the disaster still linger, 20 years after its occurrence.
China appreciated the United Nations efforts to mitigate the effects of the disaster, and its shift from emergency relief to the long-term development of the countries. On the twentieth anniversary, China would provide 10 million Yuan in grants to the Government of the Ukraine for projects to eliminate consequences and effects of the disaster. He said he hoped that today's meeting would help mobilize sustained assistance to the affected communities.
ANDREAS BAUM (Switzerland) said the social, ecological and economic long-term consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe were by far not overcome and would continue to preoccupy the population of the affected countries, their Governments and the international community. The real extent of the consequences and the effects on human beings and nature were still subject to discussion among scientists. "But we must not forget that, behind all the studies, investigations and statistics published by experts all over the world, there are individuals and personal destinies. It is for these people that we are assembled today; that we are commemorating the disaster of Chernobyl."
Switzerland had been supporting the endeavours in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation to cope with the consequences of the disaster, and had been supporting a variety of programmes through its regional offices, he said. His country was also committed to helping to keep alive international awareness about the disaster and its consequences. Together with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNDP, the Internet site www.chernobyl.info had been set up as an international communications platform on the long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
YERZHAN KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan) said today's commemoration showed the attention the international community was giving to the tragedy. He noted that, 20 years later, the assessment of the tragedy's consequences on people's health was not completed, and many people continued to suffer health problems.
He noted the world's growing demand for energy resources and that there were more than 400 nuclear power plants throughout the world, and that the number would grow over the years. He said the international community should focus on the safety of nuclear power plants and the dissemination of technology on nuclear safety should be their main focus. He said the international community should bear the bitter lessons of this tragedy and take the necessary steps to avoid such a tragedy in the future. He added that Chernobyl was not just a problem for the countries immediately affected by the accident, the radiation fallout had had a negative impact on the overall environment.
He said international assistance was inadequate for the real needs of the affected countries. He noted that the resolution adopted at the sixtieth General Assembly session, which was co-sponsored by Kazakhstan, called on the international community to continue its efforts to provide the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus with the resources they needed to carry out medical, social and environmental programmes. He added that the Chernobyl tragedy was particularly felt in Kazakhstan, and that many people from the former Soviet Republics, including Kazakhstan, had participated in rescue operations, and many had not lived to see today.
MARCELO SUAREZ SALVIA (Argentina) said that remembering Chernobyl meant remembering the lives lost and the regions devastated, as well as the need for strict application of the most advanced technologies. The Chernobyl disaster tested the will to survive of the communities affected, and tested the will of the international community as it attempted to help those affected communities. A deep message of hope and solidarity had arisen. It was necessary to highlight the efforts of the three most affected Governments and their peoples to cope with the consequences of the disaster, in particular in the areas of health, environment and radiological security. When speaking of Chernobyl, it was also important to speak of international solidarity and cooperation, including the activities carried out under United Nations funds and programmes to support the efforts of the affected countries. Today's commemoration was accompanied by the hope of recovery.
RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ (Cuba) said the Cuban people had benefited from the generous help of the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian nations over the past decades, and understood the enormous value of true human solidarity.
In 1990, Cuba had initiated the Tarara Humanitarian Programme to help people affected by the disaster. He said the assistance centre had treated more than 18,000 children with illnesses from post-traumatic stress to cancer, over the past 16 years. In addition to its humanitarian aspect, the programme had had an important scientific impact, by collecting primary data on the internal contamination of infants from the affected areas. This information had been used by international bodies of the United Nations system, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), in their assessments.
Cuba was convinced that a true spirit of cooperation was essential to help the victims of the accident and let the scientific and technological breakthroughs reach everyone around the world. He urged United Nations entities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the IAEA and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to strengthen their collaborative efforts.
RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) said the widespread consequences of the devastating Chernobyl accident must not be underestimated. He paid tribute to those who perished during and after the accident, as well as those seriously affected. Following the accident, no one had had a clear idea of its full extent and impact. The number of victims was difficult to ascertain, even today. The international community's response had been a signal of the spirit of cooperation prevailing at the time. Humanitarian assistance had come not only from neighbouring States, but also from rivals. The event showed that States could not act alone in dealing with such tragedies. Chernobyl remained an important reference point for discussions on atomic energy.
Brazil, he noted, had also learned lessons from an accident on its territory, in 1987. Such accidents pointed to the need to continue to build and enhance adequate capacity to deal with natural and man-made disasters, and to strengthen coordination among States and the United Nations in providing assistance. Throughout the years, Brazil had provided specialized medical assistance to victims of the Chernobyl accident. The accident had provided a glimpse of the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.
ANGEL CARRO CASTRILLO, speaking on behalf of the European Commission, said the scale of the Chernobyl accident and the negative impact on the economies of the neighbouring countries had attracted widespread public concern and created a wave of solidarity to help Ukraine and other affected countries. The European Commission had been at the forefront in providing assistance to deal with the effects of the accident. Since 1986, the Commission had allocated over $588 million to Chernobyl-related projects. The largest proportion of the Commission's efforts had been dedicated to the Chernobyl site itself, including through the Chernobyl Shelter Fund for the construction of a new shell over the damaged reactor.
He said the Chernobyl accident had caused devastation and suffering on a large scale, bringing out the best in terms of human solidarity and cooperation. Twenty years on, many lessons had been learned on preventing accidents, mitigating their consequences and on emergency preparedness. The Commission would continue supporting projects for the improvement of nuclear safety, as well as projects dealing with the consequences of the accident. The Commission would remain a fully committed and active partner of the Chernobyl cause.
RAYMOND FORDE, Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies, said everyone was familiar with how the radiation exposure of the Chernobyl disaster had impacted the health and well-being of people, especially regarding the spike in thyroid cancer amongst the population. That health phenomenon was all the more serious, as it primarily affected children and adolescents. He said the international community should not forget that that type of tumour was normally very rare in children and adolescents, but in some areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia the rate was about 16 times higher than in countries not affected by a nuclear accident.
He said coordinated global efforts were needed to address the growing problem of thyroid cancer and other serious health ailments. He said thyroid screening in the affected communities would be critical for many years, especially right now, as thyroid cancer rates were expected to peak between 2007 and 2012, and would likely remain the primary health problem in the areas affected by Chernobyl. He said the Federation's task was to help mobilize local communities and their residents, so they could contribute to solutions that could save their lives and protect their livelihoods.
In closing remarks, Mr. ALI (Malaysia), Acting Assembly President, said that the Assembly had heard telling testimony about the suffering caused by the Chernobyl disaster and paid tribute to all its victims. It had also been encouraged to learn the hard lessons of Chernobyl. Those lessons applied not only to the importance of the safe use of nuclear power, but also to the vital necessity of providing the public with credible and transparent information in the event of any crisis, and to ensuring broad public participation in decisions involving any potentially hazardous technology.
The Assembly, he continued, had heard evidence of the ingenuity and creativity of efforts to overcome the impact of Chernobyl, through measures designed to protect the population from radiation exposure and to devise a safe means of conducting agricultural activities in contaminated regions. It had also learned about costly and painstaking efforts by Governments and the international community to mitigate the health consequences of the accident. Delegations had been heartened by accounts on the potential for recovery of the region. The United Nations shift in 2002 from a humanitarian response to one emphasizing social and economic development had been seen as offering real hope for the revival of communities blighted in the aftermath of the accident.
"It is incumbent on all of us to turn this hope into reality, and to lend unabated international support to the efforts of the Governments of the most affected countries -- Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine -- to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster."
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