Helen Clark: Opening Speech at 2017 Meeting of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Chernobyl

Apr 3, 2017

No one should be left behind in overcoming the legacy of Chernobyl. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

Good morning, and welcome to the 2017 meeting of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Chernobyl. 

This is the ninth meeting of this kind since UNDP took over from UN-OCHA the UN system-wide co-ordination on Chernobyl in 2004. I am happy to see so many familiar faces in the room and on the screen. This is also my last Chernobyl meeting as UNDP Administrator – and as the UN Co-ordinator of International Co-operation on Chernobyl.

Let me welcome the Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS, Cihan Sultanoğlu.  Ms. Sultanoğlu will take over as chair of the meeting following my departure around 11:00am.

I am very pleased so many participants are joining today’s meeting which underlines the lasting impacts of the Chernobyl accident and our strong shared commitment over the past 31 years to overcome them. 

Of the many people I wish to welcome, let me start with the Government observers, including representatives of the three countries most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident: 
•    H.E Mr. Valentin RYBAKOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, 
•    Ambassador Andrei DAPKIUNAS, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations, 
•    Mr. Sergey KONONUCHENKO, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations,
•    and Mr Vitalii Bilan, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations. 

Let me welcome the many participants joining us by videoconference. First, UN Resident Co-ordinators and members of two UN Country Teams are joining us from our Country Offices in Minsk and Kyiv. 

We also have participants joining us by videoconference and phone from Bonn (UNV), London (EBRD), Geneva (UNEP), Vienna (IAEA, FAO) and Minsk (World Bank). 

Here in New York I welcome representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Delegation of the European Union to the UN, UNICEF, WHO and UNDP. Finally, let me greet observer participants from UN Member States which are either actively supporting or very interested in recovery efforts and nuclear legacy issues – Ambassador Mr. Mahmadamin MAHMADAMINOV, Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the United Nations, as well as representatives of the Permanent Missions of Japan, Kazakhstan, Poland and United Kingdom to the UN.

During today’s meeting, I will ask the key stakeholders to present their updates and perspective on Chernobyl activities, after which the floor will be open for questions and comments and, if time allows, for brief closing remarks.

To set the stage for today’s event, allow me to start with some observations and remarks.

The purpose of today’s meeting is two-fold:

1.    to review progress made on Chernobyl-related activities since the last IATF in April 2016;
2.    to brief each other on the plans made following the adoption of the latest GA resolution on Chernobyl of 8 December 2016 on the “Persistent legacy of the Chernobyl disaster”, which has defined the vision for post-2016 international co-operation on Chernobyl.   

This year’s IATF meeting marks the beginning of the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, whose economic, environmental, and social impacts are still felt in Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. It is an occasion to reflect on the recovery process and to take stock of progress on the ground. It is also a moment to remember the heroic efforts of the first responders who rushed to the damaged reactor on 26 April 1986 and sacrificed their lives or their health for the benefit of affected communities. 

To this end, I am pleased that, for the first time, the world will observe the “International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day” which was part of the General Assembly Resolution on Chernobyl last December. I understand that Governments of the affected countries are organizing commemorative events here in New York, in their capitals, and in affected communities. 

The Governments of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as local communities, civil society, and international partners, are to be commended for their many years of concerted efforts to improve the lives of people in communities affected by the disaster.  I have been privileged as UNDP Administrator to see this work for myself in Belarus, and to visit the Chernobyl site in Ukraine.

The leadership shown by the governments of the three affected countries has been a major factor in the success of the post-Chernobyl work.  Your commitment to working closely with international organizations has allowed us to promote integrated approaches to the sustainable development of the affected areas. This has also been reiterated in the 2016 Secretary-General’s report on Chernobyl. It is essential now to find innovative ways to work with local communities in affected areas to help advance their sustainable development and build their resilience. 

Eleven years have passed since UNDP assumed responsibility for co-ordination of all UN activities related to the Chernobyl accident. Since then, UNDP has led the promotion of developmental approaches to Chernobyl-related work with affected countries, people, and communities. I had the pleasure of co-ordinating this work from UNDP’s side for the last eight years. While today will be my last Chernobyl meeting as UNDP Administrator, I am pleased that UNDP will continue to lead the co-ordination of international co-operation activities and bring all stakeholders together in this inter-agency task force format, not only at headquarters level but also at country level where much work is underway. Later this morning, future plans will be presented by UN Resident Co-ordinators, UN Country Teams, and participants joining us from New York or from various capitals. 

The ‘development approach’ to addressing the consequences of Chernobyl and other nuclear legacies is working. It has also been widely acknowledged that adopting localized solutions which affected communities themselves embrace as self-reliance and self-sufficiency strategies has been successful. Yet, despite the significant progress achieved, there is still work to  do to help affected regions and communities realize their full development potential.  

Recovery and development efforts around Chernobyl should be comprehensive, and should continue to transition from emergency responses to reviving inclusive social and economic development. They should also be anchored in Agenda 2030 and the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. 

As Governments adapt the relevant SDGs to their local contexts, opportunities exist to further integrate and mainstream the Chernobyl priorities in medium and long term development strategies, plans and projects at the local level. No one should be left behind in overcoming the legacy of Chernobyl. 

To conclude, 2017 promises to be an important year of implementing and operationalizing the General Assembly resolutions on Chernobyl, and your participation in today’s meeting serves to advance that. 

The representatives of the governments of the most affected countries – Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, will now deliver statements. Thank you all once again for your kind attendance and for your commitment to international co-operation on the response to the many needs generated by the tragedy at Chernobyl.

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