UNEP Assesses Environmental Damage in Albania, Macedonia

SKOPJE, Macedonia September 11, 2000 - A team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) arrives in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today to assess the environmental damage caused by last spring's conflict with Yugoslavia over Kosovo. The team will also assess the capacity of the Macedonian government to deal with the environmental problems that confront the country.

A similiar field mission to Albania will take place during the week of September 17.

refugees

Kosovar Albanian refugees, 1999 (Photo by Chris Hondros courtesy USAID)
In early 1999, thousands of ethnic Albanians from the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo were expelled from their homeland by the Serbian military. Nearly 800,000 Kosovars fled to the neighboring countries of Albania and Macedonia, countries which were not prepared to deal with the flood of refugees.

On March 24, 1999, NATO countries launched air attacks against Yugoslav military targets after attempts to reach a diplomatic solution failed. On June 9, an agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia was reached, and NATO halted its bombing campaign the following day.

Kosovo is now governed by a United Nations Interim Administrative Council headed by Dr. Bernard Kouchner.

While Albania and Macedonia were not the focus of fighting during the conflict, their natural environment was stressed by the hundreds of thousands of fleeing civilians who crowded into refugee camps on their territory.

There may also be preconflict hot spots of industrial pollution that are not receiving the attention they need because the governments are confronted with the enormous social and economic problems created by the conflict and its aftermath," UNEP said in a statement today.

"Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, like many nations in the world, must confront very significant threats to the environment and public health with limited resources," said UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer.

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Stenkovic, Macedonia, Camp 1: transit camp sheltering refugees. (Photo by Thierry Gassmann courtesy International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC))
"We are pleased to deploy the UNEP's tools to analyze the conditions of these two nations, so that we will all have a better understanding of the challenges ahead," he said.

As they arrive in Macedonia today, team members will split into three groups that will assess institutional capacity, environmental hot spots, and refugee camps. The groups will meet with local experts and authorities, visit sites, and take samples.

The assessment team will map out pollution sources and seriously contaminated sites that may require urgent attention. It will also determine the capacity of national, regional and local authorities to adopt and enforce the policies that will protect and improve the nations' environment.

In Macedonia, the mission anticipates visiting among other sites: Drisla, Bitola, Veles, Kicevo, and Jugenovec, as well as a number of former refugee camps.

Kukes

Refugee camp at Kukes, Albania (Photo by Ursula Meissner courtesy ICRC)
The UNEP assessments will contribute to the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. The Stability Pact aims to promote security, democracy, and institution building in the countries affected by the recent crisis.

The assessments will be conducted in close cooperation with local and national authorities, non-governmental organizations, and relevant UN agencies.

The environmental assessments build on the work of the joint UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force, whose October 1999 report focused on the conflict's consequences for the environment and human settlements in Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.

The assessments in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are made possible through financial support provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

The UNEP field missions' final reports will be published in November.