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BALKANS TASK FORCE (BTF)
BRIEFING MEETING
(Brussels, 27 October 1999)

Opening
BTF final report
Discussion
Conclusions
List of participants

Opening

Mr Timo Makela cordially welcomed the participants on behalf of the DG Environment and the European Commission opened the meeting. Mr Pekka Haavisto on behalf of Balkans Task Force, UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) thanked the European Commission for co-hosting the meeting and welcomed the participants.

The aim of the meeting was to familiarise the participants with the Balkans Task Force Report, “The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements” and to discuss the appropriate follow-up action.

The BTF Final Report

Mr Haavisto, Chairman of the Balkans Task Force presented the report, describing the working methods, the main findings and the recommendations. In his presentation Mr Haavisto emphasized that the clean up of the identified four hot spots, namely Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor should come under humanitarian assistance. Mr Haavisto also thanked all the contributing governments, environmental NGOs and scientific institutions for their support during the work.

Mr Jan-Olof Snihs, from the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute, coordinator of the desk assessment group that produced the report on the “Assessment of the Potential Effects on Human Health and the Environment Arising from Possible use of Depleted Uranium during the 1999 Kosovo conflict” (PDF) expanded on the working methods, main findings and recommendations of the report.

He stated that the work could not be carried out fully without further information about whether or not depleted uranium was indeed used, how much and in which sites. Because of this lack of information it was only possible to carry out a desk assessment. He continued, that as part of the desk assessment work, a small group of BTF experts made a short visit to Kosovo on a fact-finding mission to randomly selected targets but found no evidence of depleted uranium.

As a personal final remark, he suggested that with the given information, depleted uranium is only a relatively small problem within the framework of all environmental problems in Kosovo and in the region. However, he said, it is necessary to continue the efforts to get information about the actual use of depleted uranium in Kosovo and, against that information, to further investigate the subject.

Discussion

Mr Joachim Bendow, Executive Secretary of the ICPDR thanked the BTF for their cooperation. He drew the meeting’s attention to the question of damaged bridges on the Danube and the risk of flooding caused by ice. He then stated that the ICPDR is continuing to follow this development together with relevant organizations and respective countries.

In Mr Pekka Haavisto’s response to a question by Mr Bertrand Charrier, representative of the Green Cross, he stated that he is aware that FRY authorities as well as some local governments are pleased with the findings of the report, but that there are concerns that the clean-up, in some cases, may slow down the reconstruction of the factories. This will therefore have a negative impact on the social factors in the e.g. towns like Kragujevac.

Mr Wolfgang Krajic on behalf of FOCUS, found that the report was good and stated that their own report from their mission is in line with the findings of the BTF report. FOCUS has already started the relief work upon their recommendations in Pancevo, including the cleaning up of mercury and floating barriers on the Pancevo wastewater canal to Danube. He emphasized that their work was relief work and as such only a short-term solution. Medium and long-term solutions should come from someone else.

According to him FOCUS will finalize their plans until the end of the winter. The Swiss government is considering financing a more detailed groundwater monitoring in some of the identified hot spots.

Mr Timo Makela from the European Commission Environment Directorate announced that the commission is preparing an Environmental Action Program for the Balkan Region in the Framework of the stability pact for the Balkans. The action program is expected to consist of four components: institutional development, mobilizing civil society, emergency assistance and reinforcement of existing regional cooperation.

Mr Michel Girod from the Environmental Institute announced their willingness to support UNEP in the monitoring of groundwater pollution if BTF is to continue their work.

Ms Marija Zupancic-Vicar from the IUCN thanked the BTF for their cooperation in the assessment of environmental damage to biodiversity in the FRY. She emphasized the need to manage the natural resources in the region also against potential overuse, such as illegal logging. IUCN would like to participate in implementing the BTF recommendations regarding the biodiversity.

With reference to Chairman Haavisto’s estimated cost for aid to the hot spots of $20 million, Mr Bertrand Charrier was optimistic that such funds could be found, and urged participants to establish an Emergency Environment Fund.

Ms Michelle de Cordova from WWF thanked for the cooperation with the BTF and found the report to be a major contribution to this situation. WWF had hoped that BTF's  press release would not have played down the environmental consequences as it did.

Mr Haavisto said that BTF also had to bear in mind the concerns of local people in the FRY. BTF had to provide neutral but accurate information on the findings. Therefore all presswork included the message that there was no evidence of an environmental catastrophe with large-scale effects on human health.

The ICPDR announced their plans to carry out further monitoring of the Danube with the governments of Germany and Austria focusing on bio-indicators. According to Mr Bendow, the preparations of a comprehensive ship survey on the Danube environment to be carried out in 2001 are under way. With reference to the BTF’s recommendations concerning the appropriate monitoring programme, he welcomed any support for a reinforced or improved system.

Conclusions

Mr Mäkelä in his concluding remarks once again thanked the BTF for their excellent work, finding the report to be far more comprehensive than could be expected in this complex political situation. He said that the report gives a solid basis for the future work on the environmental issues in the Balkans. He stated that the Stability Pact would provide a policy framework for work hereonwards but that the political framework requires a regional approach including programs, which relate to the entire region. He went on to thank the other organisations for their interest and announced his readiness to participate in the implementation work. Mr Mäkelä said that it was now time for the participants of this meeting to take the messages of the meeting forward. He urged everyone to promptly respond to the needs of action.

Mr Pekka Haavisto concluded by thanking the participants for attending the meeting and expressed his pleasure in sharing the information. He stated the vital interest in continuing with this issue, specifying a key role of the European Commission in the integration and revitalization of the environment. He, once again, stressed the fact that rapid action under the humanitarian assistance should take place already during this winter in order to diminish the risks to environment and health.

List of Participants

Kaj Barlund, UN/ECE.
Joachim Bendow, ICPDR.
Branko Bosnjakovic, UN/ECE.
Claudia Canevari, European Commission DG XI.
Carla Capriati, DG Environment European Commission D3.
Bertrand Charrier, Green Cross International.
Michelle de Cordova, WWF European Policy Office.
Roberto Ferrigno, ANPA.
Henriette Forgamann, DG XI.
Michel Girod, European Commission JRC.
Carsten Gunther, Permanent Representative Germany.

Pekka Haavisto, Chairman UNEP/Balkans Task Force.

Patrick Hemerycrx, European Environment Ministry of the Flemish Community.
Alain Jubier, NATO Scientific and Environmental Affairs.
Wolfgang Krajic, FOCUS.
Torres Lacasa, European Commission DG Relex D1.
Timo Makela DG XI A.
Arghiris Makris, Permanent Representative Greece.
Marques de Cavalho, Permanent Representative Portugal.
Andrew Murphy, European Environment Agency.
Per Nylokke, Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy.
Fotios Papoulias, DG Environment European Commission D2.
Anthony Payne, European Sustainable Cities & Towns Campaign.
Patrick Rabe, DG Environment European Commission .
Pasi Rinne, Senior Advisor UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force.
Josiane Riviere, DG Environment European Commission BV3 /63.
Julian Rouche, UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force.
Vladimir Sakharov, Head UNEP/OCHA.
Gernot Schnabl, DG Environment European Commission E1.
Jan-Olof Snihs, Swedish Radiation Protection Institute.
Caroline Vermeulen, Permanent Representative Belgium.
Alex Vlandou, Permanent Representative Greece.
Thomas von Hendel, European Commission DG Relex D2.
Marija Zupancic-Uicar, IUCN World Commission on PAS (WCPA).

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