International cooperation is vital in reducing disaster risks and building resilience as the world is not insured against future tragedies, speakers told the General Assembly during its commemoration of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in 1986.
“This solemn anniversary reminds us that we must continue to build resilience and to be prepared for unexpected challenges, to create a safer future for all,” said Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly. “The world has not, and will not, forget the disaster at Chernobyl.”
Paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the accident, he recalled heroic acts of firefighters who walked into danger to protect the world and paid the ultimate sacrifice. In the shadow of this tragedy, recovery workers rallied to respond as local villages and towns were left empty, he added.
The trauma of evacuation left its mark on the lives of many in the surrounding areas, he said. Families fled their homes, their daily routine disrupted forevermore, facing a new reality of unemployment and poverty. Thousands of children were affected by debilitating health issues, including thyroid cancer, the course of their future irreparably altered.
He, however, stressed that the resilience of those who reside in the affected areas of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine is a testament to the power of humanity, commending the Governments for working to protect people from the effects of radiation, mitigate the effects of the accident and build a better future for affected communities. In addition, he applauded the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which played a critical role in coordinating the Organization’s activities in the aftermath of the disaster.
Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, delivered remarks on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres, noting that, since 1986, the United Nations has supported those affected, first through emergency and humanitarian aid and later by supporting economic and social development.
“Our joint efforts have enjoyed some success,” she said, pointing to a substantial rise in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the affected areas and systematic efforts to train doctors and health workers in tackling Chernobyl’s lasting impacts. Today, she said, the disaster holds many important lessons as the world works to address and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to support safe, stable and peaceful societies everywhere.
The representative of Belarus said that the Chernobyl accident released a significant amount of radioactive substances into the environment, contaminated thousands of square kilometres of land and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It caused billions of dollars in damage to the economy of his country, which took in about 35 per cent of Chernobyl’s radio caesium fallout. By 2021, he said, the country has implemented five Government programmes totalling $19.3 billion. The Belarus-initiated resolution on “Long-term consequences of Chernobyl disaster”, adopted at the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly, recognizes the need to continue international cooperation on Chernobyl under the United Nations auspices. Belarus shares its experience of overcoming many consequences of the disaster with partners. On 20 April, Minsk hosted an international conference on Chernobyl, considering the creation of an investment platform designed to unite investors and ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the most vulnerable regions. He expressed hope that the results of the Minsk conferences will make an additional contribution to the solution of post-Chernobyl problems, which he said have no expiration date.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that, without exaggeration, the entire world, not just the Soviet Union, faced a tragedy of an unprecedented scale. The explosion took everyone by surprise, and the accident became one of the largest human-made disasters of the last century. Work is still under way to eliminate its consequences. The world is not insured against future disasters. It is therefore crucial to draw lessons from this event. The Chernobyl accident has made significant scientific contributions to the nuclear industry. Due to improved atomic technology, nuclear power plants operate in almost all regions. After all, atomic energy remains the most cost-effective and safest way to obtain electricity. The Chernobyl disaster provides a chance to move away from confrontational rhetoric, since this is a common tragedy for all people. He welcomed the work of United Nations agencies.
The representative of Ukraine, associating himself with the European Union, said his country’s international partners worked together to help overcome the social, economic and environmental consequences of the Chornobyl catastrophe. Recalling that the European Commission and the Group of 7 countries helped close the Chornobyl plant in 2000, he described the closure as a “remarkable example of international solidarity”. The New Safe Confinement strategy isolated radioactive substances from Chornobyl’s destroyed fourth reactor for at least 100 years. However, the containment is only the beginning of another crucial stage — namely, transforming the Shelter Implementation Plan into an environmentally safe system. He also drew attention to important lessons learned during the catastrophe and its aftermath on the impact of disinformation campaigns run by the Soviet authorities. “Against the backdrop of today’s challenges […] it is a powerful remainder that disinformation, just like radiation, is an invisible killer,” he stressed.
At the outset, the participants observed a minute of silent prayer for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster.
The representatives of the Congo, Kuwait, Romania, Chile and the Netherlands also delivered statements, respectively, on behalf of African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States, and Western European and other States. The representative of the United States, the host country, also spoke, as did the delegate of Cuba.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m., on Wednesday, 28 April.