Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment - FYROM
Chapter 5 - Managing the Kosovo refugee crisis: environmental
Background to the crisis
Refugees began arriving in FYR of Macedonia in March
1998 to escape conflicts
On March 24 1999, the Rambouillet peace talks having broken down, NATO commenced air strikes against FRY. Virtually overnight, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to neighboring countries including FYR of Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The sudden influx of new refugees posed a formidable relief challenge to FYR of Macedonia and the international community.
Although FYR of Macedonia made efforts to receive the initial influx, the country's resources were inadequate to cope with what had become a crisis. In addition to the scale of the logistical challenges involved, concerns existed that further refugee influxes might cause ethnic destabilization. As a result, all decisions concerning refugee accommodation were made by the Office of the President, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Urban Planning and Construction. Absent from this process were representatives of environmental authorities, non-governmental organizations (NG0s), inter-governmental organizations (IG0s) and municipal authorities.
The Government chose to accommodate refugees with host families and in tented camps and collective centers. Facilities were located mainly in regions where people With Albanian heritage formed the majority of the population. UNHCR was the lead United Nations agency for providing assistance and support to the Government. Agreements with key ministries, international donor and multilateral agencies, NG0s and NATO forces further facilitated refugee protection and care.
The population of refugees in FYR of Macedonia peaked in June 1999, at which time humanitarian aid had been extended to some 261,000 refugees. According to UNHCR, approximately 57 % of these refugees stayed with host families, 42 % lived in eight tented camps, and less than 1 % were housed in collective centers. An additional 92,000 refugees were airlifted to 29 host countries, and 1,300 were- transferred to camps in Albania.
On June 3, 1999, after more than two months of intensive air bombardment, FRY agreed to an international peace plan and the withdrawal of its military forces from Kosovo. On June 10, 1999, following further negotiations, NATO suspended its military operations, and the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, the Kosovo Peace Plan. With the Kosovo conflict ended, the refugees began to return home.
The environmental dimension of the refugee influx
In the context of a conflict, the provision of refugee relief is the first and foremost priority. In the wake of refugee influxes, however, it is worthwhile to examine their impacts on the environment and to understand whether lessons for the future can be derived. In this regard, the Government and the international community met the basic needs of some 261,000 people, an overwhelming success in the provision of emergency relief. In spite of the time and pressure posed by the influx, UNHCR took several progressive measures to ensure protection of FYR of Macedonia's environment. Undoubtedly, the success of these measures is to some degree reflected in the fact that impacts to FYR of Macedonia's environment were found to be minimal.
Nevertheless, after the Kosovo conflict ended, concerns were raised that the refugees may have placed a heavy and lasting burden on the country's infrastructure for environmental management. As a result, one of the key aims of UNEP's mission was to determine the overall environmental impacts of the refugee influx and to consider what steps can be taken to further integrate environmental protection into future refugee operations. The observations and conclusions of the mission follow. General and site-specific recommendations are contained in Chapter 7.
Subsequent to a significant refugee influx, vast quantities of solid wastes are inevitably produced, with excessive packaging of food aid and other basic goods, being the principle cause. The successful management and disposal of such wastes depends largely on the waste management infrastructure of the host country.
During the crisis in FYR of Macedonia, solid wastes generated by refugees were managed in several different ways. For refugee camps, solid wastes were collected and transported to the Drisla landfill near Skopje (see Chapter 4). According to Drisla Public Enterprise (DPE), the camps produced a total of 29,022 m3 of solid waste, representing an average of 215 m3 per day. In contrast, the residents of Skopje and Tetovo produce an average of 1,000 m3 of solid waste per day. On average then, the refugee camps increased the daily solid waste load to Drisla landfill by approximately 22 %, a substantial additional burden that probably elevated the risks of the groundwater and river contamination discussed in Chapter 4.
In the cases of host families and collective centers, solid waste was managed by municipal authorities.- No special procedures were used to accommodate the additional volume of waste generated and, as a result, disposal largely occurred according to accepted local practice. Since the majority of refugees in host families and collective centers were located in the Skopje and Tetovo regions, most of this waste would have been sent to the Drisla landfill. In other regions disposal of solid waste would have occurred at illegal and unmanaged sites, reflecting the inadequate solid waste management infrastructure in the country as a whole. Statistics concerning the solid wastes generated by refugees accommodated by host families and collective centers are not available for analysis. However, if the volume of waste was in line with that produced by refugees in camps, then up to 40,000 m' may have been generated.
Water was supplied to refugee camps using tanker trucks and local sources such as wells and springs. The peak of the refugee crisis coincided with high daily summer temperatures that increased water demand and pressure on water supply systems. In some cases, this led to shortages in camps and local communities. Despite these periodic problems, water of acceptable quality and quantity appears to have been supplied to refugee populations without long-term impacts.
Prior to the UNEP mission, serious concerns had been raised about the potential impacts of the refugee crisis on Rasce Spring, one of the nation's major sources of drinking water. The spring yields an average of 6,000 liters of water per second, nearly half of which is used by Skopje's 500,000 inhabitants.
The Government did not include environmental criteria during the selection of refugee camp sites. As a result, five of the camps were located within the protection zones established around Rasce Spring to safeguard water quality and quantity. Bojane and Radusa camps were located in 'protection zone F, while the Neprosteno, Senokos and Cegrane camps were located in the less strict 'protection zone 2'. The aim had been to provide the camps with ready access to potable water.
Despite the sensitive location of these camps, inadequate measures were taken to minimize the risk of groundwater contamination from wastewaters. Soak-away pit latrines were initially used in Bojane, Radusa, and Senokos. Although these pits were eventually replaced by sealed tanks, this did not occur until some two weeks after the peak refugee population was recorded.
There is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest that the refugee camps located within the protection zone had any adverse impact on the quality of water in Rasce Spring. However, a detailed study that is being conducted with financial and technical support from Denmark, in cooperation with the Government, will undoubtedly provide additional information.
Two systems were used to manage wastewater produced by the refugee camps. At the outset of the refugee influx, the camps at Bojane, Radusa, Senokos and Stenkovec I & II (see Map 7 for locations) relied on soak-away pit latrines, while the camps at Neprosteno and Cegrane used sealed metal tanks. These tanks were frequently emptied by DPE and transported to the Struga water treatment facility in the south of the country. Rising concerns over the potential for groundwater contamination in Rasce Spring by the soak-away pits led to their replacement by metal tanks in the Bojane, Radusa and Senokos camps. However, this was not done until after the peak of the refugee influx had occurred. The tanks were also emptied by DPE and the waste transported, to Struga for treatment.
The Struga plant, FYR of Macedonia's only operational wastewater treatment plant, processed all of the wastewater that was collected from the camps. The plant ordinarily treats approximately four million m' per year of wastewater and serves an estimated 120,000 inhabitants in the municipalities of Struga and Ohrid. DPE reports that a total of 6,639 m3 of wastewater were collected from the refugee camps. However, the Struga treatment plant reports that only 2,002 m3 of wastewater were received and treated. The fate of the missing 4,637 m3 of wastewater is unknown, underscoring the need for a stronger national system of wastewater collection and management. An analysis by Proaqua, the company responsible for treating the effluent in Struga, suggests that the refugee camp wastewaters were less diluted, with higher concentrations of pollutants, than typical residential waste.
During the peak of the influx, refugees accommodated by host families and collective centers imposed stresses on wastewater collection systems, particularly in urban areas. These additional wastewaters were collected by septic tanks or municipal sewage lines and disposed of according to local practice. In many cases, this involved discharging untreated wastewater directly into the Vardar, Strumca or Crni Drim rivers. In the collective centers in Pretor, near Lake Prespa, refugee wastewater was discharged into the lake without treatment due to a malfunctioning treatment system. The wastes of 1,000 refugees in host families were also discharged into the lake without treatment between March and June. However, the mission could not assess the cumulative environmental impacts of these discharges, because wastewaters produced by the 17,000 residents of the region also enter the lake untreated.
FORESTS AND BIODIVERSITY
In FYR of Macedonia, illegal timber harvesting and animal poaching by refugees was minimized by the provision of cooked or dry meals. While minor incidences of hunting and tree felling were reported at some of the campsites, e.g., Cegrane and Stenkovec II, in each case, camp management responded by providing hot or dry meals, and/or stoves and fuel from registered suppliers. As a result, long-term effects are not evident. Similarly, damage to forests and biodiversity have not been noted as environmental concerns associated with refugees accommodated in host families or collective centers.
During the process of camp site selection, flat and
well-drained locations are generally preferred. Agricultural land often
presents ideal conditions. In FYR of Macedonia, the camps of Radusa
and Blace were located on areas recently used for agriculture. Although
these sites were cleaned by UNHCR after closure, gravel still covers
much of the land, inhibiting future agricultural use. At the time of
the UNEP mission, a UNHCR Quick Impact Project was being considered
for rehabilitation of the Radusa site in cooperation with local landowners.
However, rehabilitation of the Blace site, which totals only three hectares,
has not been adequately addressed. An innovative project has been established
to rehabilitate 52 hectares of unproductive land at the Cegrane refugee
camp into a permacultural training center and growing operation.
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Last update: 19 March, 2001