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BALKANS TASK FORCE (BTF)
Coordination MEETING

(Geneva, 18 January 2000)

The Chairman of the Balkans Task Force, Mr. Pekka Haavisto, opened the meeting by welcoming the participants and by briefing them on the present work and funding situation of the Balkans Task Force (BTF). This included the general response to the Joint UNEP-Habitat BTF proposal within the consolidated inter-agency OCHA appeal for the South-eastern Europe Humanitarian Operations.

The Chairman summarized the activities of BTF since its establishment in May 1999, which included the environmental assessment of the Balkans region and the final report published in October. The activities of BTF were financially supported by 11 governments and technically assisted by many other governments, UN organizations and NGOs. More than 60 scientists were involved in the assessment of the environmental damages and participated in the missions to Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (including Province of Kosovo and Republic of Montenegro), Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. The recommendations and findings of the report were well received by the UN Secretary General, the donor countries and the authorities in the Balkans region. These focused not only on the immediate action in the four hot spots but also included recommendations on longer term monitoring and institutional strengthening.

Before starting the actual clean-up activities in the four hot spots, the BTF activities for 2000 foresee a feasibility study in each of the four locations with the establishment of strong partnerships with governments, UN agencies, and NGOs interested in cooperating with BTF. The work will also involve the local authorities. The feasibility studies will carefully analyse the immediate technical measures that are necessary and possible to take, in order to diminish the risk to human health and degradation of environment. In particular, the studies will focus on measures where humanitarian assistance is needed. The recruiting of BTF expert teams will start in January. In February two expert teams of 3-4 experts each for Pancevo - Novi Sad and Kragujevac - Bor respectively will assess, analyse and propose activities. Based on availability of funds, a 6 to 8-month project would then take care of solving the analysed environmental problems, which are still extremely acute. These projects are defined in the course of the feasibility studies based on scientific and economic analyses. For the first phase covering May - December 1999, BTF received 1, 443 000 US dollars in financial support and is in the process of settling the accounts for 1999. BTF will send its statement of accounts to the various donors, as soon as it is ready. For the year 2000, up to this point, some governments have given funds or pledges for about 750 000 US dollars for the feasibility phase. However, the real implementation phase of the environmental clean up will according to preliminary estimates require 17 million US dollars.

BTF continues to have bilateral discussions with potential donor governments and organisations but also with the authorities in the Balkans region in order to clearly define the environmental problems incurred during the armed conflict. Chairman Haavisto reminded the participants that there are still requests to make an independent assessment of the environmental consequences in the countries neighbouring the FRY.

BTF intends to maintain its office in Geneva and also work out of and in cooperation with the UNDP field office in Belgrade. The representative of UNDP thanked UNEP/BTF for this co-operation initiative. UNDP is looking forward to further collaboration with UNEP in this sector, particularly now at the important stage of programme development and establishing the principal programme implementation structures. The UNEP/UNDP projects could also take advantage of other “decentralised cooperation” projects carried out in the Balkans. UNDP also emphasised that UN-led projects should follow the humanitarian line and not engage in the debate of political conditionality.

All the participants expressed their appreciation of the excellent assessment report, as a basis for further positive expectations of the feasibility study and for improvement of the environmental situation as part of humanitarian assistance to the Balkans region. They confirmed their willingness to cooperate with BTF and promised to explore means of technical and/or financial support.

REC offered their cooperation through their respective field offices throughout the Balkans region not only for logistical purposes but also at expert-level.

The representative of the City of Amsterdam stated their readiness to support the municipality of Pancevo in order to contribute to environmental solutions. Experts from Amsterdam are visiting the Pancevo industrial complex next week to investigate more closely the need for assistance.

The representative of Germany informed the meeting that they can not directly support industrial companies linked with the political establishment of the FRY but they are willing to give assistance to local authorities who have suffered from the conflict. Germany is also considering channelling assistance through twin-city arrangements. The environmental programmes could, however, even if channelled through local authorities, be coordinated by BTF.

The representative of Denmark stated that the plans by BTF to continue its work is a positive step. He emphasised that due the urgency of the matter, BTF should be ready to take action to reduce environmental damage already during the feasibility study. Furthermore, he stated that in parallel with the feasibility study funds should be collected for the clean-up phase.

The representative of Norway stated that the OCHA-appeal by UNEP/UNDP was a very interesting example of urgent environmental need as part of humanitarian assistance. She said that for Norway it is of interest to know as early as possible, what sums other donors are planning to pledge for the BTF clean-up in FRY.

The representative of FOCUS reported on the decontamination carried out in the Pancevo region and that its emergency work under the FOCUS initiative will end with the final meeting in February and the publication of its report. As a representative of Switzerland, he stated that the Swiss intention is to proceed on a bilateral basis by supporting sanitation or decontamination projects. Funds and expertise will be available for projects such as the OCHA-appeal for the FRY by UNEP/UNDP.

The representative of REC was interested in the feasibility study, the environmental clean up projects and other initiatives and mentioned that these issues were on the agenda of the Skopje meeting planned for the end of January. This meeting will discuss the “regional environmental reconstruction plan” and would prepare the ministerial meeting planned for March 2000 and the ministerial consultations in June. REC would be ready to assist with training projects in the area and especially in the hot spot locations with environmental capacity building projects and expert advice.

The representative of the Stability Pact thanked BTF for their excellent work and welcomed their decision to continue and follow-up its recommendations. He stated that although environmental concerns were not a priority in the Balkans region, environmental assessments were also needed in all the neighbouring countries. Good environmental management usually fosters economic and social development and environmental cooperation can play a vital role in the stabilisation of the region. Environmental programmes will be on the agenda of the Skopje meeting in early February, and also at their pledging conference in March. The FRY is not a member of the Stability Pact for time being and therefore the Stability Pact is not in a position to endorse activities inside FRY. Nevertheless, the Stability Pact is looking forward to closely co-operate with UNEP/BTF and receiving BTF`s programmes related to the Balkan region for the year 2000 in order to endorse them at their meeting in February. The Stability Pact invited UNEP to a coordination meeting to be held in Brussels in the beginning of February to discuss the various environmental initiatives in the region of Balkans.

The representative from ICPDR mentioned their interest in BTF’s maintaining its efficiency and offered in-kind support of experts in soil, water, chemicals and biological indicators. He also proposed to exchange their findings acquired in similar environmental initiatives already being implemented in the Balkans region.

Some participants mentioned that the local authorities and inhabitants have already tackled a few problems, such as the oil refinery, which functions at a very low capacity and the car factory, which again produces cars. However, drinking water sources are still at great risk and and soil contamination and other major issues remain to be solved.

Participants

Hiroyuki Eguchi, Japanese Mission

Astrid Helle Ajamay, Norwegain Mission

Mariana Noteeboom, Netherlands Mission

Antonio Butão, Portuguese Mission

Larry de Boice, UNDP

Roman Kololkin, Russian Mission

Sofia Calltorp, Swedish Mission

William McPherson, USA

Oreola Ivanovna, REC

Francoise Belmont, UNEP/ROE

Bertrand Charrier, Green Cross Int

Ivo Kokje, City of Amsterdam

Joachim Bendow, ICPDR

Franklin Thevenaz, External Affairs Switzerland

Johann Sattler, Stability Pact Brussels

Claire-Lise Thilo- Falbriard, WWF International Vienna

Thomas Loidl, Austrian Mission

Palle Lindgaard-Jorgensen, Danish EPA

Hanna Rinkineva, Finnish Mission

Thierry Berthelot , French Mission

Jurgen Keinhorst, Federal Ministry of Environment, Germany

Gertrud Attar, UNEP

Stephen Tull, OCHA

Vladimir Sakharov, UNEP/OCHA

Lars Ludvigsen, HABITAT

Diana Rizzolio, UNEP/GRID

Pekka Haavisto, UNEP/BTF

Henrik Slotte, UNEP/BTF

Pasi Rinne, UNEP/BTF

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