Assessment of the Environmental Impact of Military Activities During the Yugoslavia Conflict
1. Executive Summary
The study was carried out over a period of ten days by a team of expert staff from the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) and other contracted country experts. A framework was prepared by REC headquarters and the REC's country offices in the five selected countries gathered information and data. Additional experts were hired to give some analysis of certain specialised subjects in Yugoslavia, FYR Macedonia and Albania. The information was compiled in RECís Szentendre offices and edited for consistency. The report represents a compilation of the existing information on the environmental impacts from the conflict.
The environment in the whole territory of Yugoslavia was affected as a result of the military conflict in Yugoslavia. Given the available information, it can be stated that so far there is no evidence of a large-scale ecological catastrophe, but pollution is very severe in the vicinity of targeted industrial complexes, such as Pancevo, Prahovo or Novi Sad, and many valuable ecosystems were disturbed.
With respect to the human/built environment, the conflict has had a strong impact, in particular in Kosovo, as a result of Yugoslav Army activities. All over Yugoslavia, the infrastructure suffered heavy damage. Just because there have been no acute large-scale effects (e.g. visible impact on flora and fauna, health impacts) at the moment does not mean that there will be no long-term effects. Based on the given information, the following main types of environmental damage occurred or may occur:
- High levels of pollution around main military targets, in particular chemical industry.
- Ecosystems threatened, in particular river ecosystems.
- Food contamination resulting from soil pollution (also as a secondary effect of air pollution).
- Drinking water contamination.
- Human health (long term effects of toxic/carcinogenic substances, radiation).
- Environmental disturbances resulting from the refugee situation in Kosova, Albania and FYR Macedonia, but also from refugees coming home (e.g. use of wood for heating etc.) and refugees in Serbia and Montenegro.
Institutional threats: At the same time, it can be estimated that the position of Yugoslav authorities who seek to deal with environmental issues is even weaker than it was prior to the conflict. This means that even existing environmental legislation can not be implemented or enforced. Additionally the position of NGOs and other civil society builders is weakened.
Low priority of the environment in the reconstruction process: As the Bosnian experience has shown, environment tends to have a low priority in reconstruction processes. Especially under time pressures this can lead to decisions where the environmental impact of an activity is not taken into consideration.
Furthermore, to be able to define the dimensions of these long-term effects, it is necessary to conduct additional research. This should consist of two main elements:
1. A detailed assessment of the actual situation.
2. Long-term monitoring of the effects mentioned, in order to be able to determine the size of the problems and to be able to start remedial action.
For the neighbouring countries selected for this assessment, it can be stated that there is no evidence of an acute environmental impact from the conflict. Here it has been taken into consideration, that the monitoring of environmental parameters in particular in Macedonia, Albania and Romania has been very limited. The major impact in neighbouring countries has been caused by the refugee situation.
1.1. Summary of Environmental Effects
Surface waters have suffered largely as a result of leakage from damaged industrial plants or pollution from poorly planned refugee centres. Specific impacts include the following:
- PCBs have been released from damaged transformer stations.
- Oil products have leaked into the Danube River from the Pancevo industrial centre and the refinery at Novi Sad.
- More than one hundred tonnes of ammonia leaked into the Danube.
- More than one thousand tonnes of ethylene dichloride spilled from the Pancevo petrochemical complex into the Danube.
Over a thousand tonnes of natrium hydroxide were spilled from the Pancevo petrochemical complex.
Nearly 1,000 tonnes of hydrogen chloride spilled from Pancevo into the Danube River. Stretched water supplies in Albania due to the huge numbers of refugees.
Lack of sewage treatment in Albaniaís refugee camps has resulted in uncontrolled discharges of sewage into water channels.
In FYR Macedonia, there is a possible threat to underground water supplied through poor sewage management in refugee camps.
Oil discovered in the Danube River in Romania (below the maximum allowed concentration).
Heavy metals: copper, cadmium, chromium and lead, at rates double the maximum allowed concentration, have been registered in Romaniaís Danube.
It has to be noted that, so far, the measurable impacts are limited. However, this does not guarantee that they are not present.
Air pollution, in the case of the one-off strikes, tends to be a short-term phenomena. However, the following have been registered:
Radioactive pollution from depleted uranium weapons (claimed in Yugoslavia). Vinyl chloride monomers (VCMs): Yugoslav reports state that VCMs have reached concentrations of 10,600 times more than permitted levels near the Pancevo petrochemical plant. Polluted clouds carried the products of combusted VCMs: phosgene, chlorine, chlorine oxides and nitrogen oxides.
Products from incomplete hydrocarbon combustion were released as a result of strikes on oil refineries.
During the Pancevo and Novi Sad attacks, large oil depots were burned. This resulted in the production of soot and other particulates. Following the Pancevo incidents, a cloud of smoke some 15 kilometres in length lasted for 10 days. Concentrations of soot, SO2m and chlorocarbons increased by four-to-eight times the allowable limits. Nitrogen oxides have been released from jet aircraft and through burning industrial installations.
Hydrofluoric acid was released when the chemical plant in Baric was destroyed. Destruction of metal industry plants released heavy metals into the atmosphere: mercury, cadmium, chromium, copper and zinc.
Acid rain was measured in a number of areas, including Romania (Berliste, pH 5.4, May 12, 1999; Gradinari, pH 4.7, May 15, 1999; Timis County, pH 5.1, May 21 1999, Arad County pH 5.7, June 1, 1999) and Bulgaria (Rozhen, pH 4.23 from May 23-26, 1999). The Environmental Protection Agency in Oradea, Romania, reported an increased amount of acid rain in comparison to the same period before the conflict. The timing of much of this acid rain and the prevailing wind directions tends to link the acid rain with attacks on Yugoslavian industries.
In Timis County, Romania (north east of Belgrade), from April 18-26, 1999, the maximum allowed concentration for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia was exceeded between 5-10 times.
Actual impacts on the environment and public from these sources have yet to be ascertained.
Much of the air and water pollution will eventually settle into the surrounding soil. This will be through rainfall or leaching. These effects, however, have yet to be measured. Other identified threats to the regionsí soil are:
- Locally damaged soil structure from bombing and shelling.
- Degraded agricultural land in Albania and FYR Macedonia from the siting of refugee camps.
The direct consequences on biodiversity and nature can be summarised as follows:
- Locally the physical destruction of habitats and plant and animal populations by air and land attacks.
- Degradation of habitats and plant and animal populations from chemical contaminants (borne in air, water and in soil).
- Disturbance of fauna in their habitats and along migration routes. In FYR Macedonia, there has been a measurable increase in the presence of some species, presumably from Kosovo.
Protected areas have been directly affected by the conflict:
In Yugoslavia, these include: Kopaonik Mt. National Park, Fruöka Gora Mt. National Park, Tara Mt. National Park, Sarplanina Mts. National Park, Vrsacke Planine Mts. Natural Reserve.
In Albania a number of protected areas either had refugee camps built within them (Rrushkull, Divjaka), or refugees are impacting on nearby areas by felling trees or polluting water sources.
1.1.5. Human Environment/Health
Great damage has been caused to the human-made environment as a result of the fighting. This has centered on villages in Kosovo and town centres across Yugoslavia. Naturally there are casualties from these actions. In Yugoslavia, more than 1,400 civilians are reportedly killed in air strikes. There are no complete figures for those killed in Kosovo or military casualties to date, but these numbers are expected to be higher, by at least an order of magnitude.
Negative health impacts are expected from damaged infrastructure (water and sewage systems) in Yugoslavia and from the poor conditions that prevail in some refugee camps.
At the moment, it is not possible to obtain real facts on the quantity and level of transboundary contamination. These effects are more likely to be revealed later. However, the main areas for review wil be the transboundary impact of leakage and burning of the industrial complexes at Novi Sad, Prahovo and Pancevo, which produced acid rain and Danube River pollution, notably in the Iron Gates Reservoirs; the destruction of transformers (Kragujevac and near Belgrade); and the possible release of radioactive aerosols from depleted uranium weapons.
The unique nature of such military activity also produces unique waste and pollution. These require specialised treatment and procedures for their removal. Unexploded munitions and land mines in their own way pollute the environment.
1.2. Summary of Future Threats and Risks
The longer-term environmental impacts (threats and risks) still need further definition owing to lack of concrete data and study. However, there are a number of more obvious areas of concern:
The greatest chronic risk to the environment is to the water, which is threatened by considerable amounts of chemicals. The bio-accumulation of these pollutants in rivers and groundwater resources (well, springs and aquifers) is considered a likely risk. The build up of pollutants in the Danube River reservoirs (Iron Gates) are a likely consequent of the conflict. For Albania and FYR Macedonia the danger to precious water resources is a continuing concern.
The impact of air pollution has decreased with the cessation of hostilities. However, the use of depleted uranium is another issue, the full dimensions of which will be revealed with time. This materialís possible effects will surely be a topic of controversy and research. This controversy in itself represents a risk, because resources might be unevenly distributed between measurements of the future environmental risks emanating from the conflict.
There is a risk of long-term health effects from pollutants. This will require research and monitoring of 'at risk' populations. The possible contamination of food stuffs is a considerable threat. This is especially pertinent in those countries that have shown an inability or unwillingness to present results of general pollution. Therefore there is reason to be concerned about how they will be able to monitor the toxins in foodstuffs as well.
The slow reconstruction of infrastructure (particularly sewers and water treatment) represents a further risk to health - notably in Kosovo itself. Additionally, their are health dangers from the large numbers of people living in tented refugee camps with inadequate sanitation. In Yugoslavia itself the breakdown of the power system could leave tens of thousands without adequate power and water throughout the winter.
The institutional threats can be summarised as threats to the environmental management authorities (ministries, inspectorates) and the wider environmental community (citizens groups or NGOs). For Yugoslavia itself, the main threat is that environmental management systems may be so disrupted that the task of addressing the environmental problems cannot be properly addressed. Under the current political situation, the resources required are not likely to materialize. This can only contribute further to the environmental 'aftershocks' following the conflict.
The current crisis has revealed that, in most of the countries, there are very inadequate monitoring facilities and resources (Albania, FYR Macedonia and Romania). The threat revealed is that these countries cannot adequately measure the environmental consequences of the war and so cannot adequately prepare plans and provisions to address them.
NGOs constitute a vital component in bringing the wider community to the environmental debate. This is necessary to allow adequate public involvement in environmental decision-making and planning (public participation). Additionally, NGOs can help solve and manage environmental problems where the official authorities cannot reach. The threat is that the conflict has reduced both of these functions.
NGOs in Yugoslavia have had their activities curtailed, due to a lack of resources and political realities. NGOs in transboundary countries had their cross-border activities halted by the conflict. As is known environmental problems do not stop at national boundaries. Additionally in those countries where the largest proportion of refugees were housed there is a risk that aid priorities will concentrate solely on humanitarian or development issues, at the expense of the environmental dimension. International donors should consider this in developing their list of priorities.
The involvement of local knowledge is crucial at both the governmental and public level. Too often, previous aid programmes have been rushed and unfocused, and have relied too heavily on foreign 'expertise' without involving informed local specialists. If mishandled in this way, the remedial measures can become as much a threat as a solution.
This assessment was prepared by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) for the European Commission Directorate General XI. Its purpose is to make an initial 'snapshot' of the environmental consequences and impacts of the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military action on the territory of Yugoslavia and on selected neighbouring countries. Though, until now it has been largely impossible to assess the impacts of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) in Kosovo. The assessmentís authors have attempted to show those actual impacts on the environment and also highlight the possible or future ones.
The objectives of this assessment are to:
prepare an analysis on the possible environmental impacts on the region due to military activity;
estimate possible further threats to the environment from the conflict;
gauge the facts available on the environmental and health impacts in the affected countries;
highlight the key environmental threats to each country, so that remedial action may be prepared.
The report looks at five Balkan countries: Yugoslavia - where the fighting took place; Albania and FYR Macedonia - the 'refugee' countries; and Bulgaria and Romania - the selected 'transboundary' countries. The report is split into two main parts: environmental impacts and anticipated or future risks. The case of each country is assessed separately, to enable ease of comparison and to define specific national priorities. At the end of the report conclusions are made. In the Conclusion and in the Executive Summary, a number of priorities for assistance are suggested.
The authors have tried to present the situation as clearly as possible and with as much precise and verifiable information as was available - given the time constraints and the on-going military activity. Readers should realise that to gather information in the short time-frame available presents some difficulties. Where information has not been accurately verified, the authors have made this clear in the text. However, it is the opinion of the authors that the situation described in the report is generally representative.
The study was carried out using the REC's expertise and resources in the five target countries -Yugoslavia, Albania, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria - and through independent experts. Information from in-country environmental experts on specific topics was gathered, along with details from key pollution monitoring stations, to give specialistsí analyses. Final compilation was carried out using REC Headquarters staff (environmental experts and editors).
Credits for the work and specific methods used in the included countries are:
- Yugoslavia: Dragana Tar, the REC's Country Office Director in Belgrade, devised the study. She contracted a number of independent experts to compile the list of damaged sites and their associated impacts. Asst. Prof. Dr. Radoje Lausevic, Ing. Chem. Miroslav Spasojevic and M. Sci. Dmitar Lakusic prepared various sections of the Yugoslavia report.
- Albania: Mihallaq Qirjo, REC Country Office Director for Albania, prepared the Albanian report. This included site visits to a number of refugee camps in the country.
- Bulgaria: Mihail Staynov, Project Manager in the REC Bulgaria Office, compiled the report. He utilised information available from Bulgariaís National System for Environmental Monitoring (NASEM) and associated inspectorates of the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MEW).
- FYR Macedonia: Katarina Stojkovska, the RECís Local Representative, prepared the Macedonian portion of the report, with the support of the entire local REC staff and with very helpful cooperation from the National Agency for Environment and Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Macedonia. Dr Eftim Dimitrev prepared the section on environmental effects in the refugee camps.
- Romania: Catalin Gheorghe, the REC's Local Representative, compiled the report. All environmental protection agencies in the potentially affected area (the south western section of Romania) were utilised, along with the Ministry of Environment, Monitoring Department.
- Editorial Team: Compilation and editing was performed by a number of staff at the REC Headquarters in Szentendre, Hungary. Project management was carried out by Robert Atkinson, Head of Country Office Support Department; project director was Alexander Juras, Deputy Executive Director; Editing and proofing was carried out by Tom Popper, Project Officer. Further input and comment was given by Jernej Stritih, Executive Director of the REC and Oreola Ivanova, Head of the Executive Directorís Office.
The military action in Yugoslavia started before the NATO commenced its air strikes on March 24, 1999. Prior to these strikes, the deployment of forces in and around Kosovo had already taken place. Also, a number of refugees had been moving within the province itself. However, the air strikes by NATOís air forces on industrial and military targets has attracted the most attention. The possible negative impact on the environment from damage to these installations is the subject of this paper.
The environmental outcomes of the conflict, however, are not confined to the territory of Yugoslavia itself. Neighbouring countries may also have been negatively affected by the military actions. Albania and Macedonia have both been swamped with hundreds of thousands of refugees. The camps associated with these present not only a humanitarian management task, but also an environmental management task. For Romania and Bulgaria, who hold common borders with Yugoslavia and share water and air resources, the possibility of transboundary pollution passing along the Danube is the most obvious concern.
In the following sections, the background to these threats is highlighted country-by-country. The reason for the geographical division is to define the most pressing problems for each nation, so that the possible causes are not simplified and grouped inaccurately. The effects of these threats are covered in Part 4 and future risks in Part 5.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia covers an area of 102,173 square kilometres, with a diverse landscape, high biodiversity (for details see Stevanovik, V., Vasik, V. eds. 1995) and a developed legal framework of environmental protection (Milikevik, G. 1995). Although Yugoslavia represents only 0.07 percent of the Earthís land area, or 2.1 percent of Europeís, it encompasses all European biomes, or 5 of the total of 12 terrestrial biomes on Earth. According to IUCN-WMC criteria, the territory of Yugoslavia, together with mountainous part of Bulgaria, represents a European centre of biodiversity - one of six in Europe and 153 world-wide. Yugoslavia is home to 38.93 percent of the total number of vascular plant species in Europe, 51.16 percent of European fish species, 74.03 percent of European bird species and 67.61 percent of European mammal species. Protected natural features in Yugoslavia, which cover 4 percent of state territory (see appendix), represent localities of highest concentration of plant, animal and all other species.
Montenegro (the southern Republic of Yugoslavia) has declared itself to be the worldís first 'environmental state,' pledging to live more harmoniously with nature. The challenge it has set itself is a difficult one, with tourist developments along the coast threatening saltwater estuaries and industry causing pollution of the air, soil and water (Microsoft Encarta World Atlas 1998 Edition).
This environment has been exposed to bombing by NATO forces since March 24, 1999. At the time this assessment was prepared, the shooting part of the conflict appeared to have ceased, but the bombing lasted for 78 days. It is estimated that more than 1,200 aircraft made about 25,000 flights from the onset of the bombing in Yugoslavia. During these flights, about 17,000 attacks (with 700 in one night alone, May 14, 1999) were made against designated targets all around Yugoslavia - notably the industrial areas of Serbia and its province Kosovo and Metohia. Among them, a large number of industrial facilities were attacked more than 80 before June 5 (see appendix).
Bomb-damaged Sites that Pose an Environmental Threat
Pancevo industrial complex: The industrial complex at Pancevo (population approximately 150,000) is located 15 kilometres north-east of Belgrade. It includes the Pancevo Nitrogen Processing Plant (a factory manufacturing nitrogen fertilisers), the Pancevo Refinery and the Pancevo Petrochemical Plant. All three bombed plants are within the eight-kilometre-square industrial zone. The nearest residential buildings are less than 150 metres away from the nitrogen processing plant.
Present in the plants are ethylene-dichloride, ethylene, chlorine, chlorine-hydrogen, propylene and vinyl chloride monomers. These fluids have been released into the atmosphere, water and soil due to bomb damage and now pose a serious threat to human health in general and to ecological systems locally and in the broader Balkan region. The soil at the Petrochemical Complex was soaked with ethylene-dichloride.
All chemicals that had been released in water were found to be present in the surface waters, as well as the compounds resulting from their reactions. A large number of people have been poisoned, injured and/or evacuated. According to Yugoslav estimates, some 70,000 people have been endangered locally.
Novi Sad Oil Refinery: Damage to the oil refinery in Novi Sad, because of its location at the very bank of the Danube River in the open Pannonian plain, poses a particular threat to the environment. Yugoslav reports state that hundreds of tonnes of oil and petroleum products have leaked into the Danube as a result of air strikes. Considerable pollution has been, and is being, detected in the air and in other media of the environment (water, soil and biota), and the inhabitants from the nearby area have been evacuated. More serious environmental damage is expected when the Danube reaches a higher level.
Transformer stations: Several badly damaged transformer stations have released toxic pyralene transformer oils (PCBs in the case of the town of Kragujevac). Following the attack on a large transformer station in Belgrade, 150 tonnes of the special transformer-oil leaked through a canal system 3 kilometres from Belgrade. The oil reached the Rakovica Stream and the Topcider River, tributaries of the Sava River. Yugoslav authorities tried for seven days to collect the oil from the surface of the river and to prevent the contamination of the Sava River. Success was only partial.
The crisis in Kosovo affected Albania mostly through the refugee flow into country; military troops, operating in Albania as aid distributors and camp managers; and, only slightly, by the military incidents in villages on the Kosovo-Albania border. Monitoring of transboundary pollution threats is nearly non-existent. As a result, it is difficult to assess the possible impacts.
The flow of refugees started on the third week of March, reaching its peak by the end of March and beginning of April. By the end of April, the flow of refugees was reduced to groups of hundreds. The Albanian government and NATO troops helped to move the refugees in camps and collective centres inside Albania. By May 21, 1999, the following figures were presented for the number of refugees and camps in Albania:
Source of data on refugees: the Emergency Management Group figures for May 21, 1999 (established by the Albanian Government, international and local NGOs operating in this field).
The environmental effects expressed in this material are related mostly to the refugeesí impact on the environment, rather than to the other interventions, for which the data is either missing or not public. Initially, of course, environmental problems were not considered as a priority of the first moment. Food, shelter and medical care were the main concerns of all government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in helping refugees. As weeks pass, and the summer weather proves to be unusually hot and dry, environmental concerns are taking a higher rank in the priority list. These concerns include health problems in camps, destruction of soil fertility and structure, damage to national parks and protected areas and waste water and sewage problems.
As far as threats posed to Bulgariaís environment, transboundary pollution is the main concern caused by the conflict in Yugoslavia. Bulgaria has a border with Yugoslavia - but not Kosovo so the refugee problem was limited - sits down-stream from that country on the Danube River and is on the downwind side of prevailing winds. As such, the monitoring system provides the best indication of actual environmental impacts or threats.
In Bulgaria, all components of the environment are monitored by the National System for Environmental Monitoring (NASEM), which is managed by the National Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (NCESD) of the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MEW). There are some other sources of information related to environment, such as Hygienic-Epidemiological Inspectorates of the Ministry of Health and the National Hydrological and Meteorological Institute (NHMI). But the data provided by them are included in the information which is processed and published by NASEM.
The data on air quality, water quality and radiation are published by the NCESD in quarterly and annual bulletins, which are distributed to the authorities and are available to the public on a fee basis. This data was used to make the assessment of the environmental impact that the Yugoslav conflict had on Bulgaria.
3.4. FYR Macedonia
Since the start of the conflict in Yugoslavia, many ethnic Albanians from Kosovo entered FYR Macedonia as refugees. The most visible environmental impact of the conflict for FYR Macedonia has been this influx of refugees and the need to accommodate them. From the middle of March 1999 until now, almost 270,000 refugees have entered the country. So far, eight refugee camps have been established. The active camps, and some pertinent specifications, are as follows:
Radusa Refugee Camp, located in the community of Kondovo, northwest of Skopje, is 1.33 hectares, with a capacity of 2,000 refugees, who would have an annual water consumption of 35,879,500 litres and produce approximately 220 tonnes of garbage per year.
Senokos Refugee Camp, located in the community of Nagotino, southwest of Skopje, with an area of 1.2 hectares and a capacity for 1,500 refugees in 252 tents, has water and waste disposal needs similar to Radusa.
Bojane Refugee Camp, located in the community of Saraj, west of Skopje, is situated on 4.5 hectares and has a capacity of 4,000 refugees in 600 tents, with potential annual water needs of 71,759,000 litres and potential garbage production of approximately 500 tonnes per year.
Neprosteno Refugee Camp, located in the community of Tearce, west of Skopje, is situated on 5.6 hectares, and has a capacity of 5,000 refugees in 833 tents, with potential annual water needs of 71,759,200 litres and garbage production of approximately 500 tonnes per year.
Cegrane Refugee Camp, located in the community of Cegrane, southwest of Skopje, has a total area of 17.2 hectares, a capacity for 50,000 refugees in 8,334 tents, potential annual water consumption of 119,603,200 and potential garbage production of approximately 520 tonnes per year.
Stenkovec I Refugee Camp and Stenkovec II Refugee Camp are located northeast of Skopje, with a territory of 20 hectares and capacity for over 50,000 refugees. Other data on these two camps are not available.
Aside from the above-mentioned camps, there was also a camp at Blace, north of Skopje near the border with Yugoslavia, which acted as a reception centre, but it is now closed. When assessing negative environmental impact of the conflict in Yugoslavia, these camps remain the focus of attention. As with Albania the amount of monitoring of transboundary pollution is limited, though there appear to be some measurable contaminants.
In Romania, much like Bulgaria, the threat of transboundary pollution appears to be the area of greatest concern when assessing the Yugoslav conflictís potential to impact the environment. Romania has a contiguous border with Yugoslavia. The two countries share the Danube River for part of its course, and the river continues downstream into Romania for a further part of its course. When looking for environmental impacts, therefore, it is important to assess transboundary air or water pollution.
Information regarding the environmental impact of the war, and specifically quantitative data that makes comparisons with previous years, was requested from the environmental protection agencies in the potentially affected areas (southwestern Romania). The same was also requested of the Ministry of Environment, Monitoring Department. Most agencies responded to the request; however, the data quality they provided is poor in most cases. The agencies acknowledge that they do not have either the required equipment or the needed reagents to test for many pollutants. This situation made it difficult for them to provide good quality data. Quite often, in their desire to provide some data, agencies in Romania have used expired reagents or old equipment. In comparison with the Bulgarian results therefore the reliability of data should be questioned.