UN combats environmental threat in Eastern Bloc countries

Communities living near the Tisza river are still at high risk from floods and industry pollution incidents, according to a recent environmental assessment by a UN agency.

In January 2000, a cyanide spill from a gold mine in Northern Romania travelled down the river to Hungary, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. But despite lessons learned from the Baia Mare catastrophe, local people are still at risk almost five years later.

The report, Rapid Environmental Assessment of the Tisza River Basin, conducted by the United Nations Environment Agency, warns that the people, wildlife and plants inhabiting the Tisza river basin remain under threat due to the area’s environmental insecurity.

While noting that the basin’s ecosystem is now regenerating itself after the cyanide incident, with wildlife largely recovering, the UN report stated that a more concerted action is needed to address environmental threats or “insecurities”.

It also recommended an integrated sustainable development strategy be implemented for the entire catchment area of the river Tisza, which includes Romanis, the Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro.

The Tisza is also one of the main tributaries for the famous Danube river.

“A new regional strategy for sustainable development is necessary to integrate land and water use aspects, as well as conservation measure, such as the prevention of deforestation or restoration of alluvial forests, in support of better flood management,” said Frits Schlingemann, UNEP’s regional director for Europe.

Implementing proper flood management and working to prevent transboundary pollution risks was vital, according to Mr Schlingemann, as it would protect people and the environment, as well as providing regional stability across the national borders in question.

“Sustainable tourism can also offer a development alternative for the prosperity of the region when environmental security is guaranteed,” he added, “particularly in the mountain landscapes of the upper Tisza basin in the Carpathian mountains.”

Hot spots of potential accidental pollution risk from mining operations, including obsolete mines, were singled out by the UNEP report for receiving particular attention, which also called for urgent risk mitigation measures.

By Jane Kettle

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