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

The Balkans Conflict: Assessing the environmental Impact
of the worst damaged industrial sites UNEP-led

Balkans Task Force Mission Leaves Yugoslavia

BELGRADE, 27 July 1999 – A team of international experts from the joint United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) leaves the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia today after visiting the worst damaged industrial sites resulting from the Balkans conflict. This, the first full BTF mission to the region, is one part of an independent scientific and technical assessment of the environmental and human settlements impact of the Balkans conflict.

Speaking to reporters here today, Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish environment minister and BTF chairman, said he was very happy with the progress made to date, but that it was still too early to provide any firm conclusions on the overall environmental impact of the Balkans conflict.

The team of 12 scientists arrived in Belgrade 18 July and visited the Pancevo industrial complex (fertilizer plant, petrochemical factory and oil refeinery), Novi-Sad oil refinery, the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac, Nis (transformer factory), Bor (copper factory) and fuel depots in Kraljevo, Prahavo and Pristina, Kosovo. Two mobile laboratories (from Denmark and Germany) travelled with the group.

Looking for toxic compounds such as dioxins and PCBs, the scientists have taken extensive soil and ground-water samples. These will now be sent to independent laboratories for detailed analysis. In addition, investigation into possible earlier pollution incidents and the gathering of relevant data such as maps, air pollution records and amounts of existing hazardous wastes is helping the BTF to build up a picture of the state of the environment before the conflict. Such detailed knowledge is a necessary pre- requisite for making a credible assessment of the current environmental situation.

Furthermore, in many of the towns visited, "stake-holder" information-sharing meetings have been held with members of the local community including council officials, the general public, and representatives from public health institutes and non-governmental organisations.

There is much interest from the international community in the work of the BTF. Last Saturday in Helsinki, Klaus Toepfer and Pekka Haavisto briefed environment ministers from the EU and candidate countries about the current BTF mission. At their Council meeting in Luxembourg last month, the EU ministers had welcomed the BTF initiative and called for the immediate gathering of reliable and verifiable information for assessing the type and extent of the environmental consequences of the Balkans conflict.

Toepfer, the Executive Director of UNEP and Acting Executive Director of Habitat met with the President of Finland, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, during his visit to Helsinki. The Finnish government has contributed $500,000 to the BTF. Other countries who have provided financial and in-kind support include Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

A second BTF team, based in Pristina, started work on 20 July. 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.

Further missions to the region are planned (in August) in order to assess the impacts on the Danube river; the region’s biological diversity; and on human health. A final report will be submitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in September.

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: Robert Bisset, Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF press officer (in Belgrade) on mobile: 41-(0)-79-206-3720, email: robert.bisset@unep.org.
UNEP News Release 1999/BTF