Chernobyl victims are still suffering after 15 years

Fifteen years on from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, local people – many of whom were forced to relocate by the accident - are still suffering, says a new United Nations report, which suggests one solution as being to promote eco-tourism in the area.

The international community needs to adopt a new holistic developmental approach to the region, integrating health, ecological and economic measures, says The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, published by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Local individuals and communities need to be given control over their own futures, with a high priority given to children and young people, says the report.

“The affected population – those exposed to radioactive fallout, remaining in the affected areas, or forced to relocate – continue to face disproportionate suffering in terms of health, social conditions, and economic opportunity,” says the report. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the worst effected areas, and many are still finding it difficult to adapt, facing psychological, economic and social problems.

One source of income to the region could come from eco-tourism, says the UNDP. “The natural environment has returned there,” Kalman Mizsei, a UNDP official, told a press conference. “It is a huge area that is very natural, with lots of wildlife and unique types of animals.”

The report adds that, “little attempt had been made to exploit the reduction of human disturbance to the ecosystems and cultural landscape in a positive way and the current national plans for biodiversity protection and cultural preservation hardly refer to this potential. The territories could be used to fulfil the three countries’ international obligations on the protection of biodiversity.”

The accident has also indirectly affected the surrounding regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, due to the negative image that has been created, and through the heavy financial burden of the clean-up, which has diverted resources away from other priorities such as health and education, at a time of profound economic crisis.

The report asks, why should the rest of the world assist this region, 15 years after the accident? One answer given is that, with over 400 operational nuclear reactors around the world, there is an interest in the knowledge that can be gained about the long-term effects of the radioactive fallout on health, and about the issues of disaster management.

A second reason is that if debates around the world on nuclear power are not to be forever blighted by discussions on the plight of those affected by Chernobyl, then foreign governments would benefit by assisting with ending their problems.

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