Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Environmental Aftermath in Kosovo

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Environmental Aftermath in Kosovo

Article excerpt

An inspection of post-conflict Yugoslavia reveals underlying environmental problems that need attention.

During the 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, conflicting reports emerged in the media concerning environmental damages from the campaign. Of particular concern were the releases of oils and chemicals from targeted industrial sites, the possibility of hazardous substances entering the Danube River, and the use of weapons containing depleted uranium.

On March 19, 1999, a peace agreement between the federal government of Yugoslavia and the ethnic Albanian minority in Kosovo was negotiated in Rambouillet but not signed by the Yugoslavian government. On March 24, a day after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke returned from Yugoslavia, having failed to persuade the government to agree with the Rambouillet accords, NATO started Operation Allied Force and began to bomb targets all over Yugoslavia.

On June 1, after 78 days and after dropping more than 14,000 bombs, NATO suspended Operation Allied Force. The Yugoslavian government agreed to an unconditional withdrawal from Kosovo, and the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1244, which entrusts the establishment of an international civil administration in Kosovo to the UN Secretary General.

The Yugoslavian government claimed that the bombings had caused severe environmental damage and were intended to inflict damage that would affect human health and natural resources. NATO, on the other hand, claimed that its use of sophisticated, state-of-the-art weapons against carefully selected targets had minimized environmental and other secondary damage.

Task Force Responds

A UN Interagency Needs Assessment Mission visited Yugoslavia for 12 days in May 1999 to make an initial assessment of the consequences of the conflict even as the bombings and ethnic cleansing continued. Immediately after the UN interagency mission reported its findings, Klaus Topfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and acting executive director of United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), created the Balkans Task Force to make a detailed assessment of the impact the conflict had on the environment and human settlements. Pekka Haavisto, Finland's former Minister of Environment and International Development Cooperation agreed to chair the task force. The Balkans Task Force comprises staff from UNEP, Habitat, and independent environmental experts. This provided a rare opportunity for the United Nations to examine the effects of modern warfare on the environment.

In July 1999, after the conflict ended, the task force's core team prepared for a detailed desk study followed by field missions. During the desk study, all available data were compiled and studied, including information from the media, UN and non-UN agencies, NATO, governments including that of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and non-governmental agencies. A comprehensive database was set up to collect and compare all information available regarding the environmental damage caused by the bombings. [1]

Dilemmas

The Balkans Task Force chairman, Pekka Haavisto, began the report with the statement that the most endangered resource in times of war is the truth. It was clear from the start that the task force assessment was made in a highly charged political climate; however, the task force aimed to be as objective and scientific as possible. The first priority was to identify potential pitfalls as the task force walked a fine line between conflicting information.

* Was the information accurate? The Balkans Task Force team got mixed information from the premission desk study as well as during the field missions. Data released by the media--from radio, television, magazines, press releases, and other magazine sources--about quantities of specific pollutants differed considerably, and experts interviewed by the task force at times had completely different opinions. …

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