UNEP Press Release
For Information only
Not an official record
Jointly issued by UNEP and Habitat

Assessment of the Environmental Impact
of the Balkans Conflict on the river Danube

Balkans Task Force Danube Mission Starts work in Yugoslavia

BELGRADE, 23 August 1999. With the aim to assess the environmental impact of the Balkans conflict on the Danube river, a team of nine international experts from the joint United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) started their work here today. This, the third BTF mission to the region, is one part of an independent scientific and technical assessment of the environmental and human settlement impact of the Balkans conflict.

The current mission is organised in cooperation with the Vienna-based International Commission on the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), and the ICPDR Executive Secretary, Joachim Bendow has accompanied the BTF Chairman, Pekka Haavisto, in meetings here today with the Yugoslav authorities.

Over the next four days, the BTF scientists – from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Germany, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden - will visit potential pollution "hot-spots" up and down-stream of the Novi-Sad oil refinery, Pancevo industrial complex and a tributary near the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac. The team will also visit the Iron Gates dam on the border between Yugoslavia and Romania. Here, the Djerdap reservoir holds extensive layers of sediment that can absorb organic matter, and toxic and hazardous waste possibly carried down the river Danube. In this regard, samples taken here might reveal what Pekka Haavisto calls an "environmental history of the war."

In an effort to assess the environmental health of the Danube before and after the conflict, the scientists will collect sediment and water samples. They will also measure the accumulation of pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in living mussels, in order to get a picture of the possible toxic releases to the Danube in the hours immediately after the damage to industrial facilities. After the mission, which ends Saturday, the samples will be sent to independent laboratories for detailed analysis.

From 18-27 July, a BTF team of international experts visited the FRY to assess the environmental damage caused by the conflict at selected industrial sites. A second BTF team, based in Pristina, is currently working in close cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on issues of urban management and rehabilitation, housing law, property registration and environmental management.

A fourth BTF mission will begin work next month on an assessment of impacts on the region’s biological diversity. Finally, an inter-agency group involving UNEP, WHO, IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) and the Swedish Radiation Institute began work on 3 August to look into the issue of depleted uranium. This group, working from Geneva under the BTF umbrella, is collecting and collating information from a variety of sources and a decision will be taken in earlier September on future BTF activity in this area.

A final report on the work of the BTF - which will contain both the scientific findings and some practical proposals of what could be done by other relevant UN agencies - 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. http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf

For more information contact: Robert Bisset, Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF press officer (in Belgrade, until 28 August, c/o the Hyatt Regency Hotel on telephone (381-11) 311 1234, Fax: 311- 2234), mobile: +41-79-206-3720, email: robert.bisset@unep.org
UNEP News Release 1999/BTF

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