Helen Clark: Speech at the Opening Session of the International Conference: “Chernobyl thirty years later. From emergency to recovery and sustainable social-economic development of affected areas.”

Apr 25, 2016

Allow me to begin by extending greetings from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon whom I am pleased to represent at this important conference today.

At the outset, let me thank the Government of Belarus for hosting a series of commemorative events on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Chernobyl, and for inviting the United Nations to be part of this important conference and moment in history.

The Chernobyl accident was one of the most severe nuclear accidents in history. It created long-lasting humanitarian, environmental, social, economic, and health consequences, and led to numerous problems which linger to this day. More than 330,000 people were relocated from the contaminated regions with little prospect of return, and millions in the affected areas were left with fears about their health and livelihoods.

On this thirtieth anniversary of the nuclear accident, we remember the devastation and human suffering, and we also remember the heroism of the emergency workers who risked their lives responding to the accident and of those who laboured to build the shelter around the damaged reactor.

Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine were the countries most impacted by the nuclear accident. Seventy per cent of Chernobyl’s Cesium-137 contamination fell on these three countries. The impact of the disaster here in Belarus was extensive – many thousands of people had to be resettled away from the most affected areas, and large areas of farmland and forest were contaminated.

The loss and pain caused by the disaster must never be forgotten. Today we honor all those affected by the Chernobyl tragedy.

This anniversary is also an occasion to acknowledge the remarkable efforts made by so many to help the affected communities recover, to acknowledge the important progress made, and to look to the future with greater confidence and hope.

Much has been done to overcome the legacy of Chernobyl. The Governments of the affected countries – Belarus, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation – have provided critical leadership and resourcing to help protect people from the effects of radiation and to mitigate the consequences of the accident. Over the last three decades, people in affected regions have also received invaluable support from a number of partners, donors, and civil society organizations actively involved in relief and recovery activities.

The UN has been one of those partners, playing an important role in addressing the needs of people living in the affected communities. Initially UN agencies provided emergency and humanitarian assistance. Then, over the past decade, UN agencies have focused on supporting the recovery and development efforts of the governments and local communities.

From 2009 to 2011, the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network (ICRIN) project was implemented in the three affected countries by IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, and WHO. Significant progress was made on supporting local stakeholders to gain access to up-to-date and scientifically accurate information, and in helping the affected regions and their residents to overcome stigma, build self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and improve living conditions.

Ten years have passed since UNDP assumed responsibility for co-ordination of UN activities related to the Chernobyl accident from the UN Office of the Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs. UNDP has been proud to lead the promotion of developmental approaches to Chernobyl-related work with the affected countries, people, and communities.

The shift in the UN strategy from a focus on humanitarian relief to development assistance was an acknowledgement that the communities of Chernobyl needed economic development and the creation of new livelihoods. The shift in strategy embraced the principle that, despite the long-lasting consequences of the disaster, a return to normal life was possible for the affected communities and regions.

This year will mark the end of the 2006-2016 Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Chernobyl-affected regions. The Action Plan on Chernobyl, which serves as a practical framework and common strategy for implementation of the third Decade, will also end in 2016. In order to define a new vision for post-2016 international co-operation on Chernobyl, a series of consultations was organized by UNDP in 2015 and 2016. Two of these were hosted by the Government of Belarus. The outcomes of these dialogues will guide post-2016 Chernobyl-related work and international co-operation on Chernobyl.

UNDP believes that the developmental approach to addressing the human consequences of the Chernobyl accident is yielding practical results. Among them are increased access to opportunities for work, improved co-operation between communities and authorities, increased capacity of local communities to mobilise resources for community-based projects, greater self-reliance and self-sufficiency in communities, and increased public awareness and knowledge of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.

Despite the considerable progress, however, more can be done. Top priorities for the affected territories continue to be the need to create more jobs and livelihoods, promote growth and investment, and improve local living standards. Sustained international support will be vital for achieving these objectives and for broader sustainable development. In this regard, Chernobyl recovery efforts should be linked to attaining the new Sustainable Development Goals for the benefit of affected regions and communities. The new global development agenda, Agenda 2030, urges that no one be left behind in development. No one should be left behind in overcoming the Chernobyl legacy.

A number of lessons, including of the importance of compassion and shared responsibility, have been learnt by the affected countries and the international community in addressing the human consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.  The lessons of Chernobyl should be widely shared and fully utilized worldwide, including in the context of the 2030 Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

In closing, let me emphasize that UNDP and sister UN agencies are committed to supporting the Governments of the affected communities in their continuing efforts to spur sustainable development in the regions affected by the Chernobyl accident.

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