UNEP Media Advisory
For Information only
Not an official record

Pekka Haavisto,
Chairman of the Joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force
in New York to brief senior UN officials

NEW YORK, 5 August -- Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish Environment Minister and chairman of the joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) has been in the U.S. this week giving briefings on the recent activities and future plans of the BTF.

In Washington, Haavisto met with the Managing Director of The World Bank, Mr. Sandstrom, and separately with US government officials. Here in New York, the BTF Chairman met with UNDP and, also, briefed delegates from the UN missions and the UN Secretary-General's office on the BTF's work and plans. Later today, he will meet with UN Under-Secretary-General, Sergio De Mello.

From 18 - 27 July, a team of international experts from the BTF visited the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to look at 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.

The team of 12 scientists visited the Pancevo industrial complex (fertilizer plant, petrochemical factory and oil refinery), 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. The scientists took extensive soil, air and ground-water samples and these have been sent to independent laboratories for detailed analysis.

A second BTF team, based in Pristina, started work on 20 July. This team, working in partnership with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is focused on issues of urban management and rehabilitation, housing law, property registration and environmental management. An assessment of the housing and property registration system has been completed, and an initial assessment of the housing legal framework has begun. Also, a rapid environmental management assessment has been undertaken and practical recommendations are being developed to strengthen the policy, legal and institutional framework in this regard.

Further BTF missions to the region are planned later this month, in order to assess the impacts of the Balkans conflict on the river Danube; the region's biological diversity; and on the wider consequences for human health. A final report will be submitted to the UN Secretary-General in late September.

The latest information on 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.

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For more information, please contact:. In Nairobi, Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: +254-2-623292, email: tore.brevik@unep.org, or Sharad Shankardass, Ag. Head of Habitat Media Relations on tel: +254-2-623153.
Journalists interested in covering the upcoming BTF missions should contact Robert Bisset, Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF Press Officer on +41-22-917-8622, mobile: +41-79-206-3720, e-mail: robert.bisset@unep.org. In New York, contact Jim Sniffen in tel: 963-8094.