Sanaka Samarasinha: statement at the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Chernobyl

Belarus is the country worst affected by Chernobyl disaster: as of the beginning of 2016, 57 districts or rayons out of 118 in the country are considered contaminated to varying degrees. 21 rayons are considered the worst affected.

Almost 1.1 m people or more than 12% of the country’s population live in the affected areas. Of them almost 138,000 have been resettled from areas considered too contaminated for habitation.

Approximately 1% of the entire territory of the country is an exclusion zone and can only be used for research purposes.

This year, let me start by highlighting two significant challenges the UN system continues to face with regard to supporting the much needed work in Chernobyl-affected regions of Belarus.

First it’s the lack of donor resources specific to Chernobyl recovery. Last year from the total UN program of $22 million only 70,000 (from the Sharapova Foundation) was earmarked for Chernobyl affected communities. The UNDAF 2016-2020 budget is $111.3 million. We have mobilized 60% of it from more than 15 donors already. However, none of it is Chernobyl specific. There is a prevailing view among many donors that the development needs of affected communities are not more acute than those of other rural areas of Belarus.

Second, the lack of disaggregated data specific to Chernobyl affected areas impede more targeted responses through national and regional plans and programmes.

What are we doing about it?

The UN system here is trying to target the Chernobyl affected communities through its regularly programming especially with regard to local development, economic growth (especially green growth), health. There’s a project that is funded by the EU and coordinated by the Ministry of Health and implemented by four UN agencies focusing amongst other things at breast cancer and NCDs including in areas that are affected by Chernobyl. Through other initiatives we address social protection with a special focus on the elderly, women, youth, migrants and displaced people. We are also implementing projects on environment sustainability and energy efficiency in affected areas.

Since the end of last year, we also started to work on the area of governance, in particular: on improving communication between different communities, including Chernobyl affected communities and local and regional authorities through public feedback mechanisms.

During a country-wide initiative called #InclusiveBelarus we conducted roundtables in every Oblast, inviting people from particularly vulnerable groups to come and speak to local authorities. We also have Youth Parliaments that are supported by the UN system. The #InclusiveBelarus initiative conducted last year covered six regional cities and comprised more than 215 events and involved around 25 000 participants. We focused on 10 vulnerable groups. One of them was people from Chernobyl affected communities. We also targeted people with disabilities, women, children and youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, substance abusing people, rural poor, elderly people, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, migrants and refugees.

And what we saw was that in some of the Chernobyl affected communities those who are already vulnerable continue to be even more vulnerable. Now as a follow-up to this we have regional project coordination offices of UNDP in the three Oblasts affected by Chernobyl – Brest, Homiel and Mahilioŭ –  and we hope that the other UN agencies will also piggy back on this physical presence and will be able to continue to target work on these issues in affected areas.

The UN Country Team in Belarus has come up with a strategy to support the 2030 Agenda called the 5A approach: Awareness, Advocacy, Application, Analysis and Accountability.

We’ve done a lot of awareness through the UN70 Belarus Express, #InclusiveBelarus, Bike4SDGs etc. In particular we focused on Leaving No One Behind - aimed at fighting stigma, raising awareness on SDGs and empowering vulnerable groups.

On the advocacy part, I’m very happy to say that the Government is soon to officially appoint a National Coordinator on SDGs. The Government of Belarus is leading in the region with respect to its commitment to Leaving No one Behind. Every regional governor including those regions that are affected by Chernobyl signed a commitment to implement the Global Goals and SGD 10 in particular: reducing inequality. These are important declarations.

With respect to analysis, we carried out a vulnerability study in 2015 and 2016, which we shared with the Government and other key stakeholders such as the World Bank, EBRD and IMF. We found that around the country the most vulnerable people are children and elderly women in the current economic context. The anecdotal evidence is also that there are a greater number of older women and migrants in Chernobyl affected communities. I have here with me the IOM chief who can testify to the fact that some of those migrants are now returning to Belarus and to some of these affected communities.

This year we will look at the Chernobyl affected communities more specifically and will disaggregate data further to consider employment, household income, migration, human mobility, gender, disability, age and non-communicable diseases in the context of these affected communities.

When it comes to application we believe that these disaggregated data will help target the national programme for technical assistance 2020 of the Government, and the national action plans on gender, disability, non-communicable diseases and human rights – all of these the Government has launched in the last one year or so.

Then on accountability we are supporting the country in monitoring its progress on SDGs and Leaving No One Behind. We will include a focus on Chernobyl affected communities. We are also working on creating a parliamentary caucus of representatives from Chernobyl affected communities.

Of course, we will support the Government in its different events related to the International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day this year. Additionally, with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the International Technical Assistance Coordination Council, which I have been co-chairing with the First Deputy Prime Minister, we need to emphasize further to the donors the need to continue to focus on these Chernobyl affected communities. In particular, I would like to invite the banks such as the World Bank, EBRD and EIB to consider more rigorously the continuing needs of these affected communities when they negotiate their agreements.

Let me stop there. I know UNDP has a lot to say and so do the other agencies but I think we’ve run out of time.

Thank you.

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