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Chernobyl Nuclear Accident

6. What are the current concerns and needs of affected people?

  • 6.1 What worries people living in the affected regions?
  • 6.2 What are the current needs of various affected groups?

6.1 What worries people living in the affected regions?

The source document for this Digest states:

Fatalism yields both excessively cautious behaviour and reckless conduct
Residents of affected areas still lack the information they need to lead healthy, productive lives

Nearly two decades after the Chernobyl accident, residents of affected areas still lack the information they need to lead healthy, productive lives, according to a range of opinion polls and sociological studies conducted in recent years. Although accurate information is accessible and governments have made many attempts at dissemination, misconceptions and myths about the threat of radiation persist, promoting a paralysing fatalism among residents. This fatalism yields both excessively cautious behaviour (constant anxiety about health) and reckless conduct (consumption of mushrooms, berries and game from areas of high contamination).

These findings were most recently confirmed by three country-specific reports prepared as part of the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network (ICRIN), a UN initiative to provide accurate and credible information to populations affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Surveys and focus group meetings involving thousands of people in each of the three countries in 2003–2 004 showed that, despite concerted efforts by governments, scientists, international organizations, and the mass media, people living in the areas affected by the Chernobyl accident express deep confusion and uncertainty about the impact of radiation on their health and surroundings. Awareness is low of what practical steps to take to lead a healthy life in the region.

Overcoming mistrust of information provided on Chernobyl remains a major challenge, owing to the early secrecy with which Soviet authorities treated the accident, the use of conflicting data by different institutions, the unresolved controversies surrounding the impact of low-dose radiation on health, and the often complex scientific language in which information is presented.

Surveys showed that Chernobyl-area residents in all three countries are preoccupied with their own health and that of their children, but concern about low living standards is also extremely pronounced. Indeed, socio-economic concerns were viewed as more important than the level of radiation. Specifically, low household incomes and high unemployment cause uncertainty, see Fig. 10.

FIG. 10. What worries you most? Data from 2003 Russian survey, 748 respondents, multiple responses allowed.

The ICRIN country studies confirm that Chernobyl-affected populations need unambiguous and comprehensible answers to a range of questions, as well as fresh policies that would focus on promoting the region’s economic development. To get the message across, new ways of information delivery and education need to be found. The Chernobyl Forum findings should provide authoritative source material for creative dissemination to the affected populations, helping them both to lead healthier lives and overcome a paralyzing legacy of worry and fear.

Source & ©: UN Chernobyl Forum
 Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts (2006)
Do people living in the affected regions have an accurate sense of the risks they face?, p.41-42

6.2 What are the current needs of various affected groups?

The source document for this Digest states:

In order best to address the human needs resulting from the accident, and to optimize the use of limited resources, it is important to understand the true nature of the threat, and the number of people actually at risk. Current scientific knowledge suggests that a small but important minority, numbering between 100 000–200 000, is caught in a downward spiral of isolation, poor health and poverty; these people need substantial material assistance to rebuild their lives. This group includes those who continue to live in severely affected areas and are unable to support themselves, unemployed resettlers, and those whose health is most at risk, including patients with thyroid cancer and other malignant cancers, and those with psychosomatic disorders. These people are right at the core of the cluster of problems created by Chernobyl. Resources should be focused on resolving their needs and on helping them to take control of their destinies in the circumstances that have resulted from the accident.

Current scientific knowledge suggests that a small but important minority, numbering between 100 000–200 000, is caught in a downward spiral of isolation, poor health and poverty
Focusing resources on those most in need

A second group, numbering several hundreds of thousands of individuals, consists of those whose lives have been directly and significantly affected by the consequences of the accident but who are already in a position to support themselves. This group includes resettlers who have found employment and many of the former clean-up workers. The priority here should be to help these people to normalize their lives as quickly and as far as is possible. They need to be reintegrated into society as a whole, so that their needs are increasingly addressed through mainstream provision and according to the same criteria as those that apply to other sections of society.

A third group consists of a much larger number of people, totalling several million in the three countries, whose lives have been influenced by the accident primarily in that they have been labelled as, or perceive themselves as, actual or potential victims of Chernobyl. Here the main need is for full, truthful and accurate information on the effects of the accident based on dependable and internationally recognized research, coupled with access to good quality mainstream provision in health care and social services; and to employment.

The approach of defining the most serious problems and addressing them with special measures, while pursuing an overall policy of promoting a return to normality, should apply to the affected territories as well as to the affected individuals and communities. Where in the light of the best scientific knowledge it is reasonably possible, measures should be adopted to integrate less severely affected areas back into productive use. This combination of measures — focusing resources on those most in need, while actively promoting integration with mainstream provision wherever possible — is not a second best. Within the available budgets it is really the only alternative to sweeping cutbacks in the recovery effort, wasteful dispersion of limited resources and continuing distress for the people at the centre of the problem. By fostering a process of healing, these measures will help to address the widespread psychosocial effects of the accident. They will protect the most vulnerable as Chernobyl budgets inevitably decline and will enable the authorities to promote an orderly process of recovery over the coming years.

Source & ©: UN Chernobyl Forum
 Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts (2006)
How many people need direct assistance in coping with the consequences of Chernobyl, and how many are now in a position to help themselves?, p.42-43


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