Hungary + 3 more

EC environment commissioner calls for task force to tackle Tisza River crisis

BUDAPEST, Feb. 18 -- On an emergency visit to the region to address the tragic destruction of the Tisza and other rivers by cyanide poisoning, Margot Wallstrom, EC commissioner for the environment, said last night the accident should not affect negotiations with countries seeking to join the European Union, but rather points up the need for improvement in EU legislation.

At an evening meeting with environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Budapest on Feb. 17, the commissioner said work had begun to create an emergency task force to deal with the situation. She said that the European Commission is currently looking into means for funding efforts to control and help reverse the damage caused by a massive cyanide leak that wiped out the ecosystems of hundreds of kilometres of river and killed tonnes of fish.

REC's Tisza River Response Project

"We have to learn a lesson from what has happened here. And the lesson is that there are gaps within EU legislation." Wallstrom said. "I don't see that this accident will affect the enlargement process in a negative way."

Wallstrom, who had already put in a full day conferring with the environment ministers of Romania and Hungary, and had visited the riverside of the Tisza, made a point of meeting with NGOs, even though it was very late. She said she felt it was important to hear what NGO activists had to say about the crisis.

"I can't meet with all the NGOs, but I wanted to meet with as many as I can," she told a room filled with close to 100 NGO representatives. She said that she believes NGOs are a vital part of the process of creating a better environment and added that she will continue to keep them involved in the current crisis on the Tisza. "I intend to make sure that, in this task force, there are NGOs."

Representatives of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), which has been a leading institution in NGO support in the region, attended the meeting as observers. REC Executive Director Jernej Stritih said that the gathering proved above all that direct dialogue between politicians and NGOs can be very useful in situations like this, where the NGOs can get first-hand information about the intentions of the governments and voice their concerns, as well as mobilise their membership and public in solving the problem.

The damage of a transboundary ecological disaster can only be remediated and restored by transboundary co-operation of all those who suffered from the accident, and those who share responsibility for having caused it.

Through its Tisza River Response Project, the REC is supporting every effort to deal with the urgent tasks in the aftermath of the disaster, and is seeking to mobilise funds to support the participation of citizens and access to information through environmental NGOs. The REC is also offering its expertise to assist international governmental activities aimed at achieving restitution of the damages and prevention of further accidents and will continue to facilitate the institution of environmental management with businesses, especially industries with high environmental risk.

For more information contact Mary McKinley, E-mail: Tel: (36 26) 311-199. Fax: (36 26) 311-294.

Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe