Time to live

The accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant saw its 23rd anniversary in April. It caused so much damage to Belarusian Polesye that it can be compared to the destruction caused by war: 619 Belarusian villages were destroyed during the fascist occupation of 1941–1944 while the Chernobyl disaster deprived the country of 485 settlements — mournful figures for each Belarusian citizen
The accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant saw its 23rd anniversary in April. It caused so much damage to Belarusian Polesye that it can be compared to the destruction caused by war: 619 Belarusian villages were destroyed during the fascist occupation of 1941–1944 while the Chernobyl disaster deprived the country of 485 settlements — mournful figures for each Belarusian citizen.

Time heals even the most terrible wounds. Travelling to the southern regions of the country (most affected by radiation) we pass through Bragin, Khoiniki and Narovlia. Forsaken houses and fields stand beside inhabited settlements — people have built houses, raised children and sown their wheat…

“We will restore this area at any cost,” promised President Lukashenko. His new national strategy with respect to contaminated land was announced during his visit to the settlement of Komarin (Bragin District). It is situated just a few kilometres from the site of the Chernobyl explosion.

Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the accident, the President visited Komarin. He said, “I visit the affected districts several times a year; each time, I see changes… Life is resuming its natural course.” Indeed, much has been done to help Polesye since then. State farm ‘Komarinsky’ is a prime example, having been given 750 000 US Dollars to change from dairy farming to beef stock farming. ‘Komarinsky’ sells its top quality beef with a profitability of 8–12 per cent (it was unprofitable before its re-specialisation).

New hospitals have been built on the affected territories, equipped with modern X-ray diagnostic systems to detect early stage tumors. The situation regarding medical staff has also improved. Three years ago, Bragin District residents complained to the government about a lack of health professionals. Medical staffing levels are now almost the same as elsewhere. Material incentives were used to turn the situation around; last year, the average salary of a doctor working in Komarin hospital was around 700 US Dollars.

New enterprises have been built in affected areas primarily at the expense of the budget. The big construction materials factory in Loev was built within two years. The bricks produced there are of the best quality in Belarus, according to experts. State investments into production provide employment and growth of tax payments. Up-to-date, competitive products are needed for sale domestically and abroad and the President is eager that Polesye will make a worthy contribution. The state is supporting affected regions by providing jobs and profitable production facilities. Polesye is working within a normal market economy, based on real demand and new technologies.

Certainly, the development of the production sphere in affected areas would have been problematic were it not for the provision of ecologically clean gas fuel. Local forests are too contaminated for the wood to be burnt as an energy source. The bringing of gas is an essential part of rehabilitation. In 2006, in the Bragin District, the President urged local authorities to pursue the act of bringing gas to each house; now, the country is covered by a network of new gas pipelines. Gas is now supplied to Komarin, where 456 flats and houses are already using blue fuel. Further 433 properties are awaiting connection, scheduled for the near future…

Restoration of polluted areas continues, with the state increasing financing of infrastructural projects: new roads, water and gas pipes, and stations for water de-ferrisation. Millions of US Dollars are being invested in revitalising the land with the strategic aim of making the affected districts inhabitable again. Twenty years on, radionuclide levels are within acceptable levels in many settlements and scientists believe the main rivers are clear. Fish in the Pripyat and the Dnieper rivers are safe to eat. The third decade after Chernobyl should be an epoch of return to normal life for Polesye districts — a period of sustained development.

The UN supports Belarus’ initiative. In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report on the mitigation of the Chernobyl disaster noted that our common objective was to guarantee that by 2016 (the 30th anniversary) all the dark consequences of the disaster would be overcome. People will regain control of their lives. The UN Secretary’s General report underscores that we must strive towards sustained socio-economic development in these districts, creating new jobs and attracting additional investments. The Belarusian state continues to work on this, with over 20 billion US Dollars (a vast sum!) allocated for the mitigation of the Chernobyl disaster over this period. Experts believe that much more will need to be spent if the damage is to be completely eradicated.

International organisations’ aid is symbolic. Belarus relies on co-operation from abroad, with financing offered in many forms — from participation in infrastructural projects to the supply of advanced equipment enabling movement in the most contaminated areas.

Belarus is ready to share its experience of overcoming the difficulties of radiation contamination with all foreign partners.

Vitaly Volianiuk
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