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

Toepfer and Haavisto Brief EU Environment Ministers
on Balkans Task Force Assessment Mission

HELSINKI, 24 July 1999 - As a follow-up to the conclusions of the recent EU Environment Ministers Council meeting in Luxembourg, Klaus Toepfer and Pekka Haavisto briefed environment ministers from the EU and candidate countries, here today, on the progress of the Joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) technical assessment mission to Yugoslavia.

In Luxembourg last month, the ministers had welcomed the BTF initiative and said it was now necessary to immediately start obtaining reliable and verifiable information for assessing the type and extent of the environmental consequences of the Balkans conflict. Toepfer, who is the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Acting Executive Director of the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) was accompanied in Helsinki today by Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the BTF.

Toepfer, who yesterday met with the President of Finland, thanked the Finnish government for their contribution of $500,000 to the BTF and other countries who have provided both financial and in-kind support, including Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany. He then updated ministers on the work of the BTF mission which has begun a scientific assessment of the environmental and human settlements consequences of the conflict.

Three teams of international experts from the BTF are now working in Serbia and Kosovo. After arriving in Belgrade last Sunday, two groups have started an environmental assessment of the worst damaged industrial sites and have visited the Pancevo industrial complex, Novi-Sad oil refinery, the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac and oil depots in Kraljevo and Nis. Two mobile laboratories (from Denmark and Germany) are travelling with the groups.

The third group, based in Pristina, started work last Tuesday. This team, working closely with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is concentrating its efforts on creating mechanisms for land title registration, resolving tenancy and property disputes, and strengthening municipal (including environmental) administration and leadership. One of the BTF assessment teams looking at the industrial sites is working with the group in Pristina, Kosovo, today.

Further missions are planned in order to assess the environmental impacts of the conflict on the Danube river; the region’s biological diversity; and on human health. A final report on this first independent assessment of the environmental and human settlements impact of the Balkans conflict will be submitted to the UN Secretary-General in September. An earlier UN inter-agency mission to the region recommended that a detailed assessment of the environmental situation be carried out with the aim of identifying specific needs for targeted assistance.

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 and maps.

For more information contact: In Nairobi, Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: +254-2-623292, or Sharad Shankardass, Ag. Head of Habitat media relations on tel: 623153.
In Belgrade, Robert Bisset, Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF press officer on mobile: 41-(0)-79-206-3720, email: robert.bisset@unep.org.
UNEP News Release 1999/BTF