Green Cross to assess environmental impact of Yugoslav conflict

Environmental NGO, Green Cross International (GCI) is proposing to provide an independent assessment of relevant environmental impacts of the conflict in Yugoslavia, as part of an international mission that could take place as soon as the current hostilities stop.

Taking into account that the war in Yugoslavia may lead to far-reaching environmental consequences for many countries in Europe, Green Cross International wants to alert both the general public and relevant national and international agencies. “Regardless of political considerations the international community must act now. The high cost of environmental degradation (not just in dollar value, but also in the damage to our children’s health) only gets more expensive when left unattended,” said GCI President and former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a statement issued last week.

In addition to local pollution of land, air, surface and groundwater through the destruction of industrial installations as well as substances present in the actual weapons employed, Gorbachev refers to the danger of transboundary pollution in a number of other countries, including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova.

CGI was founded following the Rio Summit in 1992, and takes a special interest in the environmental legacy of war. It has already set up programmes to promote environmental clean-up from the Cold War in Europe and from the Gulf War.

WWF calls for international recover plan

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today called for an international environmental recovery plan to be implemented by the countries in the region under the framework of the Danube River Protection Convention (DRPC) and the Danube Environment Programme (DEP). The plan would also need to support existing civil defence preparations for spill detection and clean-up capacities in Bulgaria and Romania. Equipment to capture oil slicks and more monitoring equipment is needed immediately.

“The scale of the human tragedy in Yugoslavia is already enormous,” observed WWF’s Danube/Carpathian Programme Director Philip Weller. “WWF is concerned that long-term damage to the environment in both Yugoslavia and surrounding Balkan countries will only increase problems in the region.”

A range of unidentified pollutants has been discharged into the Danube River as a result of the war, and as yet the spread and damage to downstream areas is unclear. Nevertheless, the release of any toxic materials could have significant consequences for people and a variety of sensitive aquatic organisms.

The lower Danube River and Delta is an area of great environmental importance, according to WWF, active in the area for some time and closely monitoring the situation on the ground. The river is a source of drinking water for up to ten million people and fishing has already been banned in stretches.

Oil slicks are the most likely source of pollution, according to water sampling already done by Yugoslav, Romanian and Bulgarian environmental authorities. There have been several reports of oil slicks, but only one has so far been detected and communicated to the pollution early warning system in place in the Danube.

“The humanitarian issues are first and foremost in our minds, as they are for everyone else,” Weller added. “However, only immediate measures to stop the downstream flow of pollution will prevent an ecological catastrophe from following the humanitarian one.”

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