In a landmark publication, the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes the most comprehensive scientific report so far on the health impacts of the worst-ever civil nuclear accident. As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the United Nations is renewing efforts to revitalise the social and economic life of the regions of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the countries most affected by fall-out from the reactor explosion.
"As we work to rebuild futures, we must not forget the families of those who died as a result of the accident, and those who continue to suffer the consequences of radiation exposure and the severe disruption of their lives," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General.
"The WHO report on the health effects of Chernobyl gives the most affected countries, and their people, the information they need to be able to make vital public health decisions as they continue to rebuild their communities. WHO is supporting these efforts," said Dr Lee.
The WHO report estimates that in the most affected countries, around 5,000 people who were children and adolescents at the time of the accident have so far been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. New thyroid cancer cases are likely to be reported in the coming decades. WHO also estimates there may be up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths due to Chernobyl among the people who worked on the clean-up operations, evacuees and residents of the highly and lower-contaminated regions in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
After the accident 116,000 people were evacuated from the area. An additional 230,000 people were relocated from the highly contaminated areas to other areas in subsequent years.
Relocation proved a deeply traumatic experience because of disruption to social networks and having no possibility to return to their homes. For many, there has been a social stigma associated with being an "exposed person".
Those who were affected came to be labelled as "Chernobyl victims". Despite government compensation and benefits for evacuees and residents of the contaminated territories, some people have perceived themselves as "victims" rather than "survivors", with limited control over their own futures.
More than five million people live today in areas still contaminated with radioactive materials. Many of these people have demonstrated higher anxiety levels, multiple unexplained physical symptoms and subjective poor health compared to non-exposed populations.
WHO recommends renewed efforts to provide the public and key professionals with accurate information about the health consequences of the disaster, as part of the efforts to revitalize the people and areas affected by Chernobyl. WHO continues the efforts to improve the health care for affected populations through the establishment of telemedicine and educational programmes, and supporting research.
The UN Strategy for Recovery, launched in 2002, gave all UN agencies and the international community a framework for rebuilding the most-affected areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Chernobyl Forum, which came out of this Strategy, resulted in separate reviews of the various impacts of the Chernobyl accident: the health effects by WHO, the environmental consequences by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the socio-economic consequences by the United Nations Development Programme. The WHO report Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes is the result of this effort.
- Report: Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes