While Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were not the focus of fighting during the conflict, their natural environment was stressed by the hundreds of thousands of fleeing civilians who crowded into refugee camps on their territory.
In addition there may also be pre-conflict 'hot spots' of industrial pollution that are not receiving the attention they need because the governments are confronted with the enormous social and economic problems created by the conflict and its aftermath.
"Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, like many nations in the world, must confront very significant threats to the environment and public health with limited resources," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "We are pleased to deploy the UNEP's tools to analyze the conditions of these two nations, so that we will all have a better understanding of the challenges ahead."
The UNEP Field Mission to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which arrives today, will split its members into three groups that will assess institutional capacity, environmental "hot spots", and refugee camps. The groups will meet with local experts and authorities, visit sites, and take samples.
As the results of these efforts the assessment team will map out pollution sources and seriously contaminated sites that may require urgent attention. It will also determine the capacity of national, regional and local authorities to adopt and enforce the policies that will protect and improve the nations' environment.
In FYROM the mission anticipates visiting among other sites: Drisla, Bitola, Veles, Kicevo, and Jugenovec, as well as a number of former refugee camps.
The Field Mission to Albania will take place during the week of 17 September.
The UNEP assessments will contribute to the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. The Stability Pact aims to promote security, democracy, and institution-building in the countries affected by the recent crisis.
The assessments will be conducted in close cooperation with local and national authorities, non-governmental organizations, and relevant UN bodies. The final reports will be published in November of this year.
The environmental assessments build on the work of the joint UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force, whose October 1999 report focused on the conflict's consequences for the environment and human settlements in Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.
The assessments in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are made possible through financial support provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
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Svein Tveitdal at +47-37035730 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Updates on the new assessments will be posted on the Internet at balkans.unep.ch/work/;
information on the earlier assessments is available at www.grid.unep.ch/btf/.
NOTE: Meetings of the mission will not be open to the public or media.