How many industrial accidents does it take to strengthen international cooperation?

News and Press Release
Originally published
Press Release ECE/ENV/00/2
Geneva, 14 March 2000

An appeal by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), Yves Berthelot, as Convention comes into force

What began as a mining accident in Baia Mare, in northern Romania, resulted in widespread water pollution with far-reaching consequences in the Danube's downstream countries. "This clearly demonstrates the threat that industrial accidents pose to our environment and the need for countries to work together to improve industrial safety," says the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), Yves Berthelot.

Mr. Berthelot therefore welcomes the forthcoming entry into force of the UN/ECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents on 19 April 2000. The Convention has already been ratified by Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Community. More countries are to follow suit. Drawn up by the UN/ECE as part of its pan-European environmental legal framework, the Convention aims to protect both human beings and the environment against industrial accidents.

In the wake of the cyanide spill in Romania, more countries of the UN/ECE region have come to realize the importance of strengthening their cooperation to prevent this sort of accident happening again.

"Although it is unfortunate that it takes an industrial accident of this scale to alert some Governments to the need for closer international cooperation, at least it is now clear that all UN/ECE countries must sign up to this Convention and apply it so that its full effect will be felt. I therefore appeal to those countries that are not yet Parties to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents to draw up legislation so that they can ratify and implement the Convention as soon as possible," says Yves Berthelot. "This will ensure that in the future more industrial accidents are prevented and the impact of those that do happen can be limited."

What difference will the Convention make?

The Convention requires its Parties first of all to establish competent authorities to supervise its application.

It also obliges its Parties to identify hazardous industrial operations and assess the risks so as to ensure that they operate safely and that precautions are taken to prevent accidents. Hazardous operations should also be sited where they are the least likely to have an impact on the environment. Moreover, neighbouring countries need to be told about such operations and the hazards they pose, so that cross-border contingency plans can be drawn up. This means that, should an accident nevertheless occur, these countries can take adequate response measures together.

The Convention's framework also includes a system of notification. In the event of an industrial accident, the countries that might be affected will be informed immediately. This will give them more time to activate their response measures.

Since a country is unlikely to be able to cope with the effects of a severe accident on its own, the Convention also foresees that other countries should offer assistance.

Besides the cooperation envisaged in the event of an industrial accident, the Convention also promotes the sharing of information and technology to improve emergency preparedness and to help especially the countries with economies in transition to improve industrial safety.

For more information, please contact:

UN/ECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 409
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: (+41 22) 917 31 74
Fax: (+41 22) 907 01 07

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