22 March 2000

Press Release



GENEVA, 21 March (UNEP/HABITAT) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has confirmed to the United Nations that depleted uranium (DU) was used during the Kosovo conflict. But, according to the Joint UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force (BTF), the information provided is not of sufficient detail to facilitate an accurate field assessment of the environmental and human health consequences of its use at the present time.

The new information on DU, which was sent in a letter (and an accompanying map) to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan from the NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, states:

"DU rounds were used whenever the A-10 engaged armour during Operation Allied Force. Therefore, it was used throughout Kosovo during approximately 100 missions. . . A total of approximately 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition was used in Operation Allied Force. The major focus of these operations was in an area west of the Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, in the area surrounding Klina, in the area around Prizren and in an area to the north of a line joining Suva Reka and Urosevac. However, many missions using DU also took place outside these areas."

This information was reviewed yesterday by scientists from the BTF's Desk Assessment Group on Depleted Uranium -- an interagency group that was established last year as part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-led assessment of the environmental consequences of the Kosovo conflict. While welcoming the positive cooperation of NATO, the Group, which includes experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute, concluded that despite the additional information there was still insufficient data available on the exact location of the DU ordnance to comprehensively carry out an objective and scientifically based environmental and human health impact assessment in Kosovo.

The Group, which emphasized that the new information on DU should not be a cause of widespread alarm, also concluded, however, that because NATO has now confirmed DU was used, the recommendations made in their October 1999 report should be followed. The Group's report, which was based on the then best available information, a hypothetical scenario and unverified assumptions, recommends that at places where contamination has been confirmed, measures should be taken to prevent access. And, the local authorities and people concerned should be informed of the possible risks and appropriate precautionary measures.

- 2 - Press Release HAB/163 UNEP/67 22 March 2000

The conclusions of the BTF expert group have been forwarded to the United Nations Secretary-General and the heads of other concerned United Nations agencies, as well as the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In the report, "The Kosovo Conflict -- Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements", the BTF raised the issue of the consequences to human health and the environment by the possible use of depleted uranium. The report recommended that a thorough review of the health effects of exposure to DU should be undertaken.

At yesterday's meeting in Geneva, the Desk Assessment Group was advised that the WHO is producing a more general, "generic", report on the health effects of DU which should be available by the middle of May and is not specific to Kosovo. Also, the Royal Society (United Kingdom) is producing an independent report on the DU topic. The depleted uranium issue was only one part of last year's assessment and the BTF's overall report concluded that the Kosovo conflict did not cause an environmental catastrophe affecting the Balkans region as a whole, but that pollution detected at four environmental "hot spots" (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health. As part of the second phase of its work, the BTF is currently preparing detailed environmental clean-up feasibility studies (for submission to donors) at the four mentioned sites in Serbia.

The BTF was set-up by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS/Habitat), in May 1999, to assess the environmental and human settlement consequences of the Balkans conflict. Under the leadership of the former Finnish Environment and Development Cooperation Minister, Pekka Haavisto, the BTF acted on the recommendation of an earlier United Nations mission to the region that a detailed assessment of the full extent of the environmental impact of the conflict be urgently carried out. The BTF report is available on the Web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf.

For more information, please contact: Robert Bisset, Office of the UNEP Spokesman and BTF Press Officer in Geneva on: +41-22-917-8598, in Nairobi (after 23 March) +254-2-623084, e-mail: robert.bisset@unep.org. Or Jim Sniffen, UNEP Information Officer, New York, tel: 1-212-963-8094, fax: 1-212-963-7341, e-mail: uneprona@un.org.

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For information media. Not an official record.