On the nineteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today appealed to the world to provide the necessary funds for a dramatic expansion of aid to help communities still suffering the effects of the catastrophy.“The three countries most affected – Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine – continue to grapple with daunting social, economic, humanitarian and environmental consequences,” he said in a statement issued by his spokesman.Nearly 8.4 million people in the three countries were exposed to radiation when the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine blew up. Beyond cancers and chronic health problems, especially among children, some 150,000 kilometres – an area half the size of Italy – were contaminated, while agricultural areas covering nearly 52,000 square kilometres, more than the size of Denmark, were ruined. “The challenge posed by Chernobyl has evolved over time,” the statement said. “As the threat posed by radiation has diminished, the no less potent hazards of poverty, chronic unemployment have come to the fore.” The focus of recovery efforts supported by the UN has shifted from emergency humanitarian assistance to long-term development aid, seeking to empower communities and foster new, sustainable livelihoods.“Early efforts are showing promise, but they need to expand dramatically in order to meet the needs of the affected populations,” the statement said. “The Secretary-General urges the international community to provide the necessary financial support for programmes designed to assist communities traumatized by Chernobyl to regain self-sufficiency and help families to lead normal, healthy lives in the affected areas.”Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has issued a new report noting that people living near the Chernobyl site still lack the information they need to live healthy lives and are instead vulnerable to misconceptions about radiation and health.