Press releases

Thursday 24 Jun 1999

UNEP and European Commission host talks on the international response to environmental rehabilitation in the Balkans

Nairobi, 23 June 1999 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) jointly convened a meeting in Brussels today with the European Commission, to discuss the coordination of the international response to the environmental rehabilitation effort in the Balkans.

The informal meeting, hosted with the EC Environment Directorate, DGXI, was attended by member countries of the European Union, UN agencies and NGOs and other concerned organisations, including Greepeace, WWF, Green-Cross and the Danube River Commission. The meeting was a direct follow-up to the recent visit (from 17 - 21 June) to Serbia and Montenegro by a team from the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements (BTF).

Last month, UNEP/Habitat participated in the United Nations Inter-Agency Needs Assessment Mission to Serbia and Kosovo. The team, under the leadership of UN Under-Secretary-General, Sergio De Mello, recommended that a fact-finding mission to the region should be undertaken involving UNEP, Habitat and UNDP, stating in its report that, "Given the gravity of potential environmental consequences of the conflict..., a more detailed assessment of the full extent of the environmental impact is urgently required."

Delegates in Brussels today echoed this recommendation and underscored the urgent need to send a UNEP-led technical mission (which will include environmental experts from the EC, EU member states, UN agencies and NGOs), to the region as soon as possible. Preparations for this are now well underway, and last week's BTF visit, led by BTF Chairman and former Finnish Environment and Development Co-operation Minister, Pekka Haavisto, was primarily to prepare the ground for the full-scale environmental assessment mission, (scheduled to take place in 2 - 3 weeks time).

The Brussels meeting concluded that "environmental aid" should be seen as part of, and become incorporated into, the wider humanitarian assistance effort for the Balkans. The BTF was asked to start identifying potential "hot-spots" of environmental damage and risk for immediate action in the short-term. The importance of re-building the capacity of relevant environmental authorities (including support for appropriate NGOs), to ensure long- term environmental rehabilitation in the region, was also stressed.

During their visit to Serbia and Montenegro last week, the BTF team met with government representatives including the Yugoslav Minister of Development, Science and Environment, Prof. Jagos Zelenovic. Discussions were also held with local authorities and NGOs, and with Martin Griffiths, the Regional Coordinator for United Nations Assistance in the Balkans, to discuss effective cooperation and collaboration between the BTF and the wider UN humanitarian effort.

As part of this initiative, the coordinator of Habitat's Disaster Management Programme, Jorge Gavidia, travelled yesterday to Skopje and Pristina, where he will work in collaboration with the wider UN humanitarian team under the leadership of Martin Griffiths.

The latest information on the work of the BTF can be accessed from the World-Wide-Web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf - the site contains information that was not previously in the public domain such as detailed situation reports and maps. The site also contains general information on the task force, the latest news, developments and contacts, and links to United Nations agencies, NGOs like WWF and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and other important partner sites, including their press materials.

Toepfer established the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force in May, to look at the direct environmental and human settlements impacts of the conflict in the Balkans and to the wider consequences to countries of the region, including Bulgaria and Romania.

******

For more information contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman
on tel: (254-2) 623292,
email: tore.brevik@unep.org,
or
Robert Bisset,
Office of the Spokesman,
UNEP,
Nairobi, Kenya,
on tel: (254 2) 623084, fax: 623692,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org. UNEP News Release 1999/75

Thursday 24 Jun 1999
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