Letter: Chernobyl lessons

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The Independent Online
Letter: Chernobyl lessons

YOUR front-page article ("Chernobyl leak", 3 April) is a timely reminder of the 12th anniversary of Chernobyl. No one must ever forget that cataclysmic event. Robert Fisk recently described in very moving detail in the Independent the after- effects on children of the war in Iraq. Those effects, while undeniably appalling, are in no way comparable with the extent of the disaster which affects 750,000 children living in areas contaminated by the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl.

I visited Belarus last month. I visited hospitals, orphanages and families. I spoke to physicians, carers and parents. Their anguish and suffering is palpable. They are forbidden to talk of the increase in the rate of morbidity in their children since 1986 and yet they invited me to take photographs of their "Chernobyl Children"(sic). These children are born either with horrendous disabilities, or with severely depressed immune systems, or acquire life-threatening diseases. The incidence of thyroid disease has risen by 800 per cent in the worst-affected areas and by 100 per cent in Belarus as a whole. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and vitamins all have to be imported. Nothing can be grown in confidence safely on most of the land. For a predominantly agrarian society this is a disaster on a scale which the world has never before experienced.

Independence has added to the economic misery. Inflation is rampant. Poverty has added to the problems of caring for sick children. A number of British families have unobtrusively been offering help by providing recuperative holidays for orphaned, abandoned and very sick and disabled children. But the urgent need is for aid on a massive and long-term scale. All the West has nuclear reactors. What guarantees have we that it could not happen to us? We cannot afford to forget Chernobyl nor close our eyes to the overwhelming need they have of our help.



West Sussex