A rural school student in the Chernobyl-affected Khoiniki district is leaning how to measure radionuclides in local produce. Photo: UNDP in Belarus.

On 26 April 1986, an accident at the Chernobyl power plant near the Ukrainian town of Pripyat fountained clouds of nuclear material across Europe with 70% of the radioactive fallout raining down on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. Nearly 23% of the country’s total area was contaminated by radionuclides, heavily impacting lifestyles and economies in 21 regions.

The catastrophe has enormous economic consequences for Belarus that resulted in US$235 billion estimated investment needs to address nuclear contamination for the period of 30 years. Missed profits and investment opportunities are estimated at US$ 13.7 billion.

Since 1988, the global community, led by the United Nations, launched and successfully implemented around 100 assistance, development, and research initiatives focused to advance socio-economic development, promote safe living, and restore a sense of communal self-reliance.

The UN designed strategy for Chernobyl affected regions is based on the assumption that local communities are in urgent need for better economic and social development, a strong need to overcome stigma and fears, associated with radiation and “nuclear contamination” label.

With the help of UN agencies and other international partners, affected regions of Belarus managed to undertake a transformation from a humanitarian aid recipient to long-term local development policy makers with good records of sustainable solutions, creating better environment for wellbeing of people and businesses.

The UNDP led “Cooperation for Rehabilitation” (CORE) Programme (2003-2008) was the first large-scale, multi-partnerships initiative that targeted the improvement of living conditions in four Chernobyl affected districts by reaching out to the people, offering the affected communities to contribute to formulation of specific individual and community initiated project proposals.

Farmers in the severely affected Brahin district learnt how to grow clean vegetables on the contaminated soils. Photo: UNDP in Belarus.

The CORE Programme helped to generate 191 local project proposals featuring 146 successful initiatives in farming, radiological education for youth, health care services, local heritage and culture thematic areas with total budget of around US$9.0 million.

A new model for pro-active engagement of the affected communities changed peoples’ attitude and behavior to social and economic challenges, inspired and motivated them to consolidate and invest local knowledge and resources for the revival and development of the affected communities.

UNDP assisted 2,190 rural smallholdings with access expert knowledge and advisory support in market practices in agriculture and livestock farming, crop planting and production of radionuclide free produce and products. Small loans and micro credits mechanisms for the affected rural communities were piloted. Thirteen monitoring and information centers for radiation control and safety were established by UNDP and with financial support from UNICEF, UNFPA in Slauharad, Chechersk, Bragin, Stolin and Luninets districts. The centers helped people on the contaminated lands to benefit from clean diary and other food production and raise public awareness on safety measures.

The cooperation with the Chernobyl-affected districts further expanded with the introduction of the innovative Area-Based Development (ABD) approach, which was applied with UNDP’s support in 60 community-driven initiatives. The ABD approach became a driving force for positive changes in social and economic environment in four Chernobyl-affected districts of the Homel region, mobilized more than 11, 000 local participants and generated around US$ 3.0 million.

UNDP in Belarus continues to play the coordination and integration role working in close partnership with the UN system to support Chernobyl transition to longer-term sustainable development.

Photo: Sergei Gapon for UNDP in Belarus.

In the past five years 25 UNDP-led initiatives were implemented in 21 most affected areas. They resulted in the development of local entrepreneurship and businesses, especially among women and youth, prevention of non-communicable diseases, development of organic farming and ecotourism, STEM and green education, ecosystem restoration and disaster risk reduction.

UNDP Belarus is currently implementing five development projects, which focus to address the development aspirations of people and environmental challenges in the affected regions: Local Economic Development, Eco-Monitoring, Wetlands protection, development of Green Cities and elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants in the Chernobyl-affected areas

In 2020, UNDP with the financial assistance from the EU helped to open two local business support institutions in the affected Khoiniki and Bykhov districts. Another two cluster initiatives and six new socially important initiatives will get funding in Khoiniki, Bragin, and Bykhov districts.

The GEF-funded Green urban development project is successfully cooperating with the Chernobyl-affected municipalities on energy efficiency and promotion of low-carbon technologies and solutions for local zero-carbon development. In the beginning of 2021, the project has assisted to finalize “Action plan for sustainable energy development and climate” for the Chernobyl-affected Slavgorod district.

Funded by the Russian Federation “Small Towns” project, boosted small and medium businesses development in small towns of Mogilev region. Three business incubators opened their doors for local entrepreneurs and regularly provide them trainings, consultancy and business advice. Thanks to these efforts in 2017-2020, new companies were registered, and jobs created. Together with the Belarusian Development Bank the project helped to leverage credit financing for SMEs worth of 5,808,770 USD in Mogilev and Vitebsk regions.

Additionally, 14 green initiatives of the UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme were implemented in the Chernobyl affected territories of the Mogilev oblast in 2020.

The Chernobyl affected territories have proven their resilience and potential for applying new knowledge and innovative solutions considering local specifics. However, there is a still need for additional resources for development and growth.

UNDP Belarus works to attract national partners from public and private sectors, including techno parks, industrial clusters to embark on a joint search for innovative initiatives and propose them for implementation. Following corporate principles and guided by the recently approved the Country Programme Document for 2021-2025, UNDP will focus its support to less developed and the Chernobyl-affected areas to leave no one behind the development opportunities. This will be achieved by fostering sustainable and innovative local development capacities and improving the quality of life and self-realization of citizens, both in urban and rural areas.

In 2021 UNDP continued to discuss opportunities and further develop the idea of the Chernobyl Investment Platform together with stakeholders at different levels: techno parks, NGOs, academia and a cluster of private sector enterprises. On 25-26 March 2021, the concept of the Platform was presented during a field visit by the UNDP Resident Representative to the Kostyukovichi district, Mahilieu region - the easternmost Chernobyl-affected area of Belarus.

The Chernobyl Investment Platform is an innovative tool designed to ensure the transition from small scale donor funded local initiatives to large scale financing for development projects that provides better planning, innovation, implementation of previously underestimated development topics such as green economy, organic agriculture, circular economy, women entrepreneurship, etc.

The three main pillars of the Chernobyl Investment Platform include integration of development information, capacity building in preparation and monitoring of large-scale development projects, and multi-partnerships to attract investments from different sources, including banks, private sector IFIs and citizens.

Projects that have an innovative solution and significance for the local communities, will be reviewed by experts, finance consultants and local administrations and will later receive multi-level support and funding. The launch of the platform will help accelerate local innovation and foster points of resilience and growth.

Currently, UNDP is exploring the ways it can use its newly created Acceleration Lab to design a digital solution to automate the processes of generation, collection, clustering and submitting for assessment the Chernobyl project proposals. This solution will allow to find and pilot the first development projects to investors or donors through the Platform. UNDP is discussing opportunities for collaboration with the Polesie State University and the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve on their groundbreaking research on disaster recovery and rehabilitation which is recognized in Belarus and beyond. Negotiations are underway with some local IT companies to harness the national potential and knowledge and ensure the Platform's effective operation and sustainability in the years ahead.

Ultimately, the development projects designed within the Chernobyl investment platform, will accelerate less developed regions towards the achievement of SDGs Through scaling up the level of local development initiatives and ideas the platform will help drive public and private partnership, deliver benefits of sustainable development for all communities, with “leave no one behind” principle and impact investment in the core of its work.

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