Do you remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster back in April 1986? The people of Belarus do.Chernobyl street

The Belarusian people are suffering more than ever from the legacy of the world's worst nuclear disaster - the radioactive fallout was 90 times greater than Hiroshima.

Belarus was the country worst hit by the disaster, with 70% of the fallout landing on its territory, around one-fifth of its area seriously affected and approximately 90% of its area affected in some way. More than 2,500 square kilometres of arable land were taken out of use permanently. Over 130,000 people have been evacuated from the most highly contaminated territories.

It is estimated that today more than 2 million people in Belarus still live in contaminated areas - and have no access to "clean" food. People still till their fields, herd cattle and eat the contaminated produce of their labours.

Thankfully, the Chemobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine was closed in December 2000, yet the problems remain. Caesium 137, with a half life of 30 years, has been shown to cause serious degenerative heart conditions and cardiac activity disorders in children and young people. It is currently estimated that it will take up to 400 years to rid Belarus of significant contamination, although Plutonium 239, another of Chemobyl's wastes, has a half life of 24,000 years.

Chernobyl reactor

The emerging picture of the impact on the children bom subsequent to the disaster is beyond comprehension. Families have to contend with the continual psychological stress of living in a contaminated area, as well as enduring the physical effects caused by the contamination. There has been a significant rise in thyroid cancer in children. The World Health Organisation predicts that within the Gomel region of Belarus, 150km north of Chemobyl, one third of the children who were aged between 0 and 4 years at the time of the accident will develop thyroid cancer during their lifetime - a total of 50,000 people. The constant exposure to the Chernobyl contamination is also reducing children's immune systems' ability to cope with other diseases.

The economy of Belarus used to be based on dairy farming, exporting produce to other parts of the former USSR. Now, with so much of the country contaminated, export trade is banned. Yuri, aged 11, said "We bought a cow so that we could earn some money by selling the spare milk, but then we were told that the milk was contaminated, so we were not allowed to sell it."

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