U.N. News Service
Thursday, February 01, 2001

UN health agency seeks $2 million to fund work on depleted uranium
1 February – The World Health Organization (WHO) today appealed for close to $2 million to examine the possible health effects of depleted uranium, which was used during conflicts in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans.

The agency plans to use the money to conduct field surveys and support data collection from local health facilities. The funds will also help WHO provide technical support and equipment to strengthen efforts by countries to keep records on cancers and other non-communicable diseases. In addition, WHO will use the resources to deploy toxicologists, radiation and chemical experts -- together with equipment, supplies and easier access to international reference centres -- in support of national efforts to diagnose and treat non-communicable diseases.

This initial appeal will eventually form part of an estimated $20 million which WHO will seek to cover its work on depleted uranium for the next four years. That money would allow the agency to undertake in-depth epidemiological and toxicological studies into the possible health and environmental effects of the substance.

Experts generally think that there is low risk from exposure to depleted uranium -- which is used in certain ammunition and missiles -- but caution that there is not enough information to be certain.

"Evidence on the incidence of cancers needs to be strengthened in communities within Iraq and the Balkans in order to draw any epidemiological conclusions," said Dr. Xavier Leus, Director for WHO's Emergency and Humanitarian Action Department. "There is also very little information on other possible risk factors for civilians and the military that may be equally important," he pointed out.

Dr. Leus said that evidence must be collected on the numbers of people exposed, amounts of depleted uranium involved and the concentration and distribution of environmental pollutants. He said the current state of uncertainty about the health effects of depleted uranium was "unacceptable."

WHO is requesting $1.98 million from humanitarian donors to cover activities for the next six months.