Assessing the Environmental Impact of War

By Haavisto, Pekka | UN Chronicle, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Assessing the Environmental Impact of War


Haavisto, Pekka, UN Chronicle


For the first time, the United Nations has undertaken to study the environmental situation after a war. The environmental evaluation of the Balkan region is a response to Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello's recommendation, following his mission to Kosovo, that a detailed assessment of the full extent of the environmental impact was urgently required. Our findings indicate that there are senous problems and that many people continue to suffer from the environmental consequences of the Kosovo conflict.

In May 1999, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS/Habitat) jointly established the Balkans Task Force. As a former Minister of Environment and Development Cooperation of Finland, I was invited to chair the work of the Balkans Task Force out of UNEP's European Regional Office in Geneva.

In July, our first team of experts investigated the so-called environmental "hot spots", which included industrial sites in Pancevo, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Nis, Bor, Prahovo and Pristina. We took samples and analyzed them in our mobile laboratories and at other reputable scientific institutions.

Our second international expert team of nine scientists from eight countries and representatives from the World Wildlife Fund (WWW) and Green Cross assessed the situation of the Danube River. We established close cooperation with the International Commission on the Protection of the Danube River and collected numerous water and sediment samples for examination by independent laboratories in various countries. We visited four different sites along the River, including Iron Gate I, the reservoir on the border of Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Another group of experts assessed the damages on selected biological diversity sites, such as the national parks in Fruska Gora, Kopaonik Mountains, Zlatibor, and Skadar Lake. Our expert group on depleted uranium included well-known scientists from the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the WWF and others. The group looked into the risks to human health and the damage and pollution of soil and water. The preliminary assessment provided the basis for decisions on further actions that need to be taken.

We distinguished between previous pollution and pollution caused by the bombings. Some industrial sites, such as the oil refinery in Novi Sad, plants in Pancevo, the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac or the mining town Bor, show signs of pre-existing environmental pollution at alarming levels.

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