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UNEP-led Balkans Task Force to continue its work in Yugoslavia

News and Press Release
Originally published
UNEP News Release - For information only - Not an official record
Jointly issued by UNEP and Habitat

Experts leave for Serbia to work on environmental clean-up studies

GENEVA/NAIROBI, 8 February, 1999 - As part of the seond phase of the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF), a group of international scientific experts will start work next weekend on detailed environmental clean-up feasibility tudies at four sites in Serbia. The team, which arrives in Belgrade on 13 February, will be conducting an analysis of the pecific activities and technical requirements at the four "hot spots" identified by the BTF in its report, "The Kosovo Conflict: onsequences for the Environment and Human Settlements."

In its assessment report released last October, the BTF concluded that pollution detected at four environmental "hot spots" (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health. Projects to address priority needs for humanitarian assistance at the "hot spots" will be identified during February/March and next week's studies are required before the actual environmental clean-up can begin.

Under the leadership of the former Finnish Environment and Development Cooperation Minister, Pekka Haavisto, the Task Force continues to work from its offices in Geneva. Last month, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe asked the BTF to contribute expertise for environmental assessments in other countries of the Balkans region. These projects will be discussed in detail later this week at the Stability pact's meeting, "Working Table on Economic Reconstruction, Development and Cooperation," to be held from 10 to 11 February in Skopje.

Clean-up in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Last year's BTF report recommended urgent remedial action at the heavily contaminated wastewater canal which flows into the Danube river at Pancevo; the removal of significant quantities of toxic waste at the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac; detailed studies on the possible contamination of drinking water supplies near the Novi Sad oil refinery; and the prevention of further releases of sulphur dioxide gas into the atmosphere at the Bor ore smelting complex.

"The main responsibility for the environmental clean-up effort rests with the Yugoslav authorities," said BTF Chairman, Pekka Haavisto. "However, it is very important that the United Nations act rapidly in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia where there is need for humanitarian assistance. In this regard, UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme, working together in close cooperation, have already taken steps to highlight the urgent environmental problems as part of the overall humanitarian assistance, " he said.

In November 1999, as part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs consolidated inter-agency appeal for 2000, a US 17 million appeal for environmental priority emergency projects in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was launched.

The BTF was set-up by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, the UN Environment Programme and UN Centre for Human Settlements in May 1999, to assess the environmental and human settlement consequences of the Balkans conflict. The BTF report, "The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements", is available on the Web at

Note to Editors

In 1999, the BTF focused its work on five areas. To this end, four field missions were carried out between July to September:

- Environmental consequences of the conflict on industrial sites
- Environmental consequences of the conflict on the Danube river
- Consequences of the conflict on biodiversity in protected areas
- Consequences of the conflict for human settlements and the environment in Kosovo

Since it was established, the BTF has worked as an integral part of the UN system and in Kosovo continues to work within the framework of UNMIK. Sixty experts, drawn from six UN agencies, 19 countries and 26 scientific institutions and NGOs, were involved in the various BTF assessment missions. Funding for the BTF work (in the form of voluntary contributions) came from Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Additional in-kind support was provided by Russia and Slovakia, and NGOs including Greenpeace, WWF, IUCN, Green Cross and the WCMC.

Note to journalists. Pekka Haavisto will hold a press conference at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, at 15.00 on Tuesday 8 February.

For more information contact Henrik Slotte in Geneva on tel: +41- 22-917-8598 or Robert Bisset, BTF Press Officer, in Nairobi on tel: +254-2-623084, fax: +254-2-623692, email:

In Nairobi, contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: (254-2) 623292, fax: 623692, email:, or Sharad Shankardass, Ag. Head, Media and Press Relations, Habitat, tel: 623153, fax: 624060, email:

UNEP News Release 2000/9