Press releases

Tuesday 17 Aug 1999

The Joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) BALKANS Task Force assessing the environmental and human settlements inpact of the Balkans conflict - update

Nairobi, 11 August 1999 - Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP and Acting Executive Director of Habitat, established the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) in May 1999, to look at the environmental and human settlements impacts of the conflict in the Balkans and to the wider consequences to countries of the region.

Mr. Toepfer's decision follows an earlier UN inter-agency mission to the region, under the leadership of UN Under-Secretary General, Sergio De Mello, which recommended that a detailed assessment of the environmental situation be carried out. This recommendation was echoed by European Union Environment Ministers at the recent Council meeting of the Environment in Luxembourg.

From 18 -27 July, a team of international experts from the BTF visited the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to look at the worst damaged industrial sites resulting from the Balkans conflict. This, the first full BTF mission to the region, is one part of an independent scientific and technical assessment of the environmental and human settlements impact of the Balkans conflict.

The team was comprised of 12 scientists from Germany, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, UK, Norway, and included representatives from the UNECE, Greenpeace and WWF. They visited the Pancevo industrial complex (fertilizer plant, petrochemical factory and oil refinery), Novi-Sad oil refinery, the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac, Nis (transformer factory), Bor (copper factory) and fuel depots in Kraljevo, Prahavo and Pristina, Kosovo. Two mobile laboratories travelled with the group. The scientists took extensive soil and ground-water samples and these have been sent to independent laboratories for detailed analysis.

A second BTF team, based in Pristina, started work on 20 July. This team, working closely with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is focused on issues of urban management and rehabilitation, housing law, property registration and environmental management. To date, an assessment of the housing and property registration system has been completed, and an initial assessment of the housing legal framework has begun. Also, a rapid environmental management assessment has been undertaken and practical recommendations are being developed to strengthen the policy, legal and institutional framework in this regard.

There is much interest from the international community in the work of the BTF. Last month in Helsinki, Finland, Klaus Toepfer and Pekka Haavisto (Chairman of the BTF) briefed environment ministers from the European Union and candidate countries about the current BTF mission. Toepfer, also met with the President of Finland, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, during his visit to Helsinki. The Finnish government has contributed $500,000 to the BTF. Other countries who have provided financial and in-kind support include Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

In recent weeks, the BTF has attended recent Balkans aid/reconstruction meetings in Brussels and the Balkans Stability Pact meeting in Sarajevo. The BTF has also briefed and updated interested UN member states, including the US and Russia. Additional briefings have also been given to the World Bank, UN Permanent Missions in New York and a number of partner UN agencies. A briefing for Nairobi-based Permanent Representatives to UNEP and Habitat is planned for later this month.

Further BTF missions to the region are planned later in August in order to assess the impacts on the Danube river; the region's biological diversity; and on human health. All the teams will draw upon expertise from competent and mandated organisations including the Danube Commission, WHO, UNDP, IAEA and the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs. With regard to the human health assessment, the BTF convened a meeting with the UN's International Atomic Energy Authority and the World Health Organisation in Geneva on 3 August to discuss the subject of Depleted Uranium. These discussions will continue in the form of a Geneva based desk study, looking at all reliable research done on the subject.

A final report from the BTF will be submitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the end of September.

The latest information on the BTF can be accessed from the World-Wide-Web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf - the site contains detailed situation reports and maps.

*****

For more information contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman
on tel: 623292, fax 623692,
email: tore.brevik@unep.org,
or
Sharad Shankardass,
Actg. Head, Media and Press Relations, Habitat,
tel: 623153, fax: 624060,
email: habitat.press@unchs.org

Or,
Robert Bisset,
Office of the Spokesman (UNEP) and BTF press officer
on phone 623084
or
in Europe on mobile: 41-(0)-79-206-3720,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org

Tuesday 17 Aug 1999
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