United Nations System-Wide

Human settlements: Disaster-prone areas (7F)

Disaster threats

The threat from natural disasters to human life and to sustainable economic development was not adequately addressed in Rio.  The 1994 World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction 'recognized the rapidly rising world-wide toll on human and economic losses due to natural disasters', and that 'sustainable development cannot be achieved in many countries without adequate measures to reduce disaster losses, and that there are close linkages between disaster losses and environmental degradation' (Yokohama Strategy, 1994).

The Barbados Conference on Small Island Developing States (1994) also emphasized the extreme environmental and economic vulnerability of such States to natural and environmental disasters, which may be increasing because of global environmental change.

The insurance industry has suffered major losses because of the recent high frequency of large-scale natural disasters.  Weather-related losses were $48 billion for the first half of this decade, compared to $14 billion for the entire previous decade (Brown, et al. 1996).  The industry is thus supporting both research and management actions to understand and if possible reduce the risks.

Kosovo Conflict Environmental Impacts 14 October 1999

The Kosovo conflict did not cause an environmental catastrophe affecting the Balkans region as a whole, but pollution detected at four environmental "hot spots" in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999). Much of the pollution pre-dates the conflict. At Pancevo (industrial complex), the wastewater canal which flows into the Danube is seriously contaminated with 1,2-dichloroethane (EDC) and mercury. There is also a mercury spill at the petrochemical factory. At the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac, there is PCB and dioxin contamination, and significant quantities of poorly-stored hazardous waste. At Novi Sad (oil refinery next to the river Danube) oil product pollution may have contaminated the groundwater/drinking water supplies. At Bor (ore smelting complex), large amounts of sulphur dioxide gas are released into the atmosphere, and there is damaged equipment containing PCB oils. There is no evidence of an ecological disaster for the river Danube as a result of the conflict. Pollution of the Danube sediment and biota is chronic both upstream and downstream of the sites directly affected by the conflict. Protected areas suffered physical damage from air strikes within limited areas, but this is of relatively minor importance when seen in relation to the overall size of the protected areas and the ecosystems which surround the sites which were hit. However, unexploded ordnance is both an immediate safety issue (risk to staff working in protected areas) and a possible long-term constraint to future tourism in and around protected areas. Little information is available on the actual use of Depleted Uranium in the Kosovo conflict, so the risks of eventual contamination cannot presently be evaluated, nor can measures be taken to prevent access to contaminated areas. (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999)  (http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf//).

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Brown, Lester R., et al. 1996. State of the World 1996. Norton, New York.

UNEP/UNCHS. 1999. The Kosovo Conflict Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements. Report of the UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force. United Nations Environment Programme/UNCHS, Nairobi, Kenya  http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf//. and UNEP News Release 99/112 of 14 October 1999.

Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World. 1994. World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction, Yokohama, Japan, 23-27 May 1994.  International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Geneva.

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UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, Geneva