U.N. to promote self-reliance in Chernobyl area

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

By Edith Honan, Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.N. efforts to help people affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster two decades ago should focus on rebuilding self-reliance instead of treating them as victims, a U.N. official said on Monday.

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to pass a resolution on Tuesday saying U.N. activity in the region must move beyond humanitarian assistance in favor of a focus on development.

The resolution would proclaim the next 10 years as a "decade of recovery and sustainable development" for parts of Ukraine, where one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in 1986, and in neighboring Belarus and Russia.

"Treating residents as victims has fostered fatalism and apathy," the U.N. Development Program's Cihan Sultanoglu said at a news conference.

She said that the challenge in the coming decade will be to "rebuild a sense of self-reliance."

The proposed resolution expresses support for UNDP campaigns including efforts to combat alcoholism and smoking, which the agency says pose a more serious health threat than radiation, and encourage reliance on radiation-resistant vegetables.

Estimates of the number of deaths linked to the world's worst nuclear accident vary widely. The World Health Organization puts the number at 9,000, while the environmental group Greenpeace predicts an eventual death toll of 93,000.

Some 200,000 residents were evacuated from Ukraine alone, though the accident hit neighboring Belarus particularly hard. Experts are still studying the long-term effects on health, particularly the incidence of thyroid cancer.

In 2005, an interagency U.N. report concluded that the health impacts of the disaster were less severe than initially feared, and that a "culture of dependency" has proven more debilitating than the concrete impact of the accident.

Monday, November 19, 2007; 6:52 PM
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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