Environmental Damage Assessed in Kosovo, Serbia

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, July 23, 1999 (ENS) - It could take ten years and billions of dollars worth of aid to restore the war-torn Balkan region, international leaders estimate.


James Wolfensohn said, "We have a responsibility to help them, especially the children, to mend their broken lives." (Photo courtesy World Bank)
World Bank Group president James Wolfensohn toured heavily damaged areas this week. In Pristina Wednesday, he called on the international community to be generous in their financial support for rebuilding the battered province.

The World Bank and the European Commission are currently gathering damage assessment reports for Kosovo to brief a special meeting of international donors in Brussels on July 28 to pledge financial support for Kosovo.

People are rebuilding their homes and shops after the conflict between ethnic Albanians, who are Muslim, and the Christian Serbs which ended June 10 after 77 days of NATO bombing forced the Serbs to agree to pull out of Kosovo.

Torrential floods struck Serbia last week, causing widespread flooding and inflicting serious damage in many towns, including the destruction of water and sewage systems. 15,000 houses were flooded and thousands of people have beeen evacuated.


Wolfensohn visited the refugee camp at Kukes, Albania (Photo courtesy ICRC/Ursula Meissner)
From July 19 to 21, Wolfensohn visited Macedonia, accompanied by his wife Elaine and World Bank regional officials. He met Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, other government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations to discuss the economic and environmental impact of the Kosovo crisis on Macedonia and South-Eastern Europe.

The World Bank delegation visited Ohrid where Wolfensohn met with the Mayors of Ohrid, Struga and Pogradec (Albania), and saw the work underway to protect the environmental resources and cultural heritage in the Ohrid area, supported by the World Bank. Finding the project a ray of hope amongst the ruins of war, Wolfensohn said, "It is such a wonderful example for the whole South-Eastern European region to see the close cooperation between Albania and FYR Macedonia to preserve the shared heritage of Lake Ohrid."

In Tirana, Albania July 19, Wolfensohn and Prime Minister Pandeli Majko signed legal agreements for the financing of three projects including a US$24 million irrigation and drainage project.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a speech to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe July 20, that failure by the international community to help restore water supplies and other essential services in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia now could result in an exodus of Serbs. He predicted it will take at least 10 years to complete reconstruction under the so-called new Marshall Plan, or stability pact, for the Balkans.

Balkans Task Force Travels with Mobile Labs

Meanwhile, three teams of international experts from the joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force are in Serbia and Kosovo working on an independent assessment of the environmental and human settlements impacts of the Balkans conflict. The scientists on this first mission are expected to finish the field work component of their work by July 28 in time for the donors meeting.

Serbian locations on the visit list include: Pancevo industrial complex, Novi Sad oil refinery, Baric chemical plant and Rakovica industrial complex (Belgrade), Zastava car factory (Kragujevac), and oil depots in Kraljevo, Nis and Pristina, Kosovo. Other sites may be added to the itinerary, and mobile laboratories will travel with the teams around the country.


Pekka Haavisto (Photo courtesy government of Finland)
"There has been a lot of speculation, from various sources, about the actual impact on the Balkans environment as a result of the conflict," said Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish environment minister and Balkans Task Force chairman who will be leading the upcoming missions.

"This, the first independent United Nations led assessment, will provide the international community with a neutral and scientifically credible report on the situation," he said.

Missions of the Balkans Task Force are planned in August to assess the environmental impacts of the conflict on the Danube river; the region's biological diversity; and on human health. A preliminary report is expected in September.

Austrian Environmental Assessment In

A mission of the Austrian Federal Environment Agency led by UNEP/INFOTERRA National Focal Point representative Johannes Mayer was in Sofia from July 12 to 20 to check at a more informal expert level data on the environmental impact of the conflict. Their preliminary conclusions on air pollution reflected data from the air pollution modeling working group of National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The measurements of polluting substances in the air such as hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, methane and phenol in the border area and around Sofia and from Romania along the Danube River during this period "remain within the usual variations of industrial air pollution with domestic and transboundary origin," the Bulgarian scientists report.

On land, the Austrian mission reported in their preliminary conclusions that during the period of military activities, no acute damages to the living environment on the Danube river were established, but in some cases heavy metals were detected in vegetation and fish. "Systematic monitoring should continue, especially since it can be supposed that considerable and mainly unknown chemical pollution is being held back still for some time by the barrages of the Iron Gate area," the Austrians reported.

On the Danube River, the Austrian mission reported that starting from unusual large oil spills on the Danube in January 1999, the Bulgarian authorities had begun well before the start of the military activities to build up a national emergency system for fast detection, analysis and data transmission in case of emergency pollution situations. "During the period of the military activities, the increased activities for monitoring the water quality along the Bulgarian stretch of the Danube river have not shown unusual increases or exceedances of current norms for the measured basic parameters," the Austrian report stated.

Providing Clean Water and Sanitation

At an official ceremony on July 16 in Novi Sad, the International Committee of the Red Cross project to ensure the supply of drinking water for four municipalities of the Vojvodina capital was opened. The 27 water reservoirs serving as distribution points and two treatment plants are now in place at the key points of this part of the city, including the Children Village.


Stenkovic, Macedonia, Camp 1: transit camp sheltering refugees. (Photo courtesy ICRC/Thierry Gassmann)
The maintenance of public utilities continues to be a priority for the humanitarian community and the United Nations peacekeeping team, KFOR. The first of the water and garbage trucks requested from UN High Commission for Refugees in Albania have been received for use in Djakovica by Solidarite and Oxfam.

British and French forces continue to ensure the collection of solid waste in Pristina and Mitrovica respectively, but there continue to be a number of other towns whose needs are not being addressed.

Norwegian Church Aid and Action by Churches Together are bringing a specialist team to Kosovo in the near future to start work on removing human bodies from wells.

International Leaders Confer

Starting today, Dr. Klaus Töpfer, UNEP executive director and Balkans Task Force chairman Haavisto will brief the Informal Council of European Union Environment Ministers meeting this weekend in Helsinki.

U.S. President Bill Clinton will participate in the Southeast Europe Stability Pact Summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, July 30.

The Summit, sponsored by the European Union and hosted by the Bosnian Presidency, will include more than 30 heads of state and government from Europe and North America "committed to southeast Europe's political and economic recovery and integration into the Euro-Atlantic mainstream."

All the leaders of southeast Europe will be invited to participate, with the exception of President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The leaders will discuss ways to strengthen peace and stability, deepen democracy and civil society, and promote economic reforms throughout southeast Europe.