Press releases

Monday 13 Sep 1999

UNEP-led assessment of the environmental impact of the Balkans conflict concludes work in Yugoslavia

Belgrade/Nairobi, 13 September 1999 - As the last team of environmental experts from the joint United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) finished their field-work here today, BTF Chairman, Pekka Haavisto, played down concerns of an ecological catastrophe, but said action was needed to deal with the environment "hot-spots" identified by the BTF's scientific assessment of the environmental and human settlement impact of the Balkans conflict.

"Pancevo and Kragujevac (towns in Serbia) are two hot-spots of particular concern," said Haavisto. In Pancevo, there is an urgent need to clean-up the 2 km stretch of heavily polluted canal which feeds into the Danube river and to remove the mercury on the ground at the petrochemical factory. As for the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac, we have recommended to the Yugoslav authorities the immediate removal of toxic waste which is a serious threat to the human health of people working there," he said.

In July, BTF scientists visited Yugoslavia to assess the environmental damage caused by the conflict at selected industrial sites, and last month a group looked at the possible impact on the river Danube. An inter-agency "Desk Assessment Group", involving UNEP, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Swedish Radiation Institute has also been looking into the issue of the use of depleted uranium in the conflict.

The BTF team leaving Yugoslavia today has been assessing the possible consequences of the conflict for the biodiversity in protected areas in the region. The experts have gathered extensive data and witnessed first hand the current situation during visits to Fruska Gora and Kopaonik national parks, Zlatibor, and Lake Skadar in Montenegro. Approximately 4 per cent of Yugoslavia is classified as a nature protected area and there were concerns that the conflict may have had a direct impact on the plant and animal populations in these areas with possible negative consequences for the region's biodiversity

"The initial reports from the biodiversity experts support our broader conclusions on the environmental impact of the Balkans conflict," said Haavisto.

"There has clearly been some localized impact with vegetation damaged as a result of direct impact from the bombs. Also, some endangered species in the vulnerable highland areas may have been affected which is a cause for concern.

However, the long-term impact on the region's biodiversity will likely be minimal," he said. "An issue of more immediate concern," continued Haavisto, "is the amount of unexploded ordnance in the national parks - it is unclear exactly how much is there but its presence is hindering management and maintenance of these areas which are key areas for recreation and tourism."

Mr. Haavisto also announced today that the BTF has completed its preliminary activities in Kosovo. Based in Pristina, the Habitat-led team has been working as an integral part of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on issues of urban management and rehabilitation, housing law, property registration and environmental management. Key issues like the establishment of a Housing and Property Directorate to deal with property disputes, as well as the need for developing guidelines and procedures for municipal operation have been included among UNMIK's priority action as a result of this work.

A final report on the work of all the BTF assessment missions and other activities will be submitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in late September/early October.

The BTF was established by the head of UNEP and Habitat, UN Under-Secretary-General, Klaus Toepfer, in May 1999 to assess the environmental and human settlements impacts of the Balkans conflict. 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 detailed situation reports, maps and other materials.

*****

For more information, please contact:
Robert Bisset,
Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF Press Officer
(in Belgrade, until 13 September
c/o the Hyatt Regency Hotel
on tel: (381- 11) 311 1234, fax: 311-2234), mobile: 41-79-206-3720,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org

In Nairobi, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692;
Email: tore.brevik@unep.org
or
Sharad Shankardass,
Acting Head,
Media and Press Relations, Habitat.
Tel.: (254-2) 623153, fax: 624060,
email: habitat.press@unchs.org

UNEP News Release 1999/105

Monday 13 Sep 1999
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