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UN Administered Province of Kosovo: call for relocation of Roma families affected by lead poisoning

© UNICEF/Kosovo/027/05

PRISTINA, 9 February: UNMIK, WHO and UNICEF are urging displaced Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian communities to vacate lead polluted camps in northern Mitrovicë/Mitrovica and Zvečan/Zveçan and move their families to a safer environment offered by UNMIK at the nearby Osterode Camp. This is an emergency requirement for the health safety of the families -- particularly their children.

Lead is highly toxic to humans. Young children, especially those under five years of age and foetuses, are the most vulnerable. Exposure to lead causes a variety of adverse health effects, including impaired mental and physical development. Although a number of measures are being undertaken at the existing camps, pollution levels are so high that no amount of remediation on these sites can protect the residents from serious health consequences. The only solution is for them to relocate to a safer location immediately.

Recent blood tests by WHO confirm that many children in Cesmin Lug, Kablar and Žitkovac/Zhikoc camps have exceedingly high blood lead levels. The lead can be removed from their blood by chelation therapy. However, this treatment requires that the patients be moved to a lead-safer environment for convalescence. Returning to a contaminated environment after chelation therapy would place those treated at still greater risk.

Osterode Camp

Osterode Camp can house up to 120 families (approx. 550 individuals). The camp has been cleaned and refurbished by UNMIK in line with recommendations of a team of US environmental engineers who tested the site for lead contamination. WHO has since tested the camp and has concluded that the camp is far safer in terms of lead pollution than the current camps.

The accommodation at Osterode -- formerly used by French soldiers -- has been completely renovated and offers central heating, electricity, water supply and regular garbage collection. In addition, the camp will be cleaned on a weekly basis to remove and airborne lead particles. The Camp has a large community centre, a kindergarten and playground, a women’s centre, and a medical facility. There will be a doctor and two nurses on duty, as well as professional camp managers. Food supplements will continue to be provided to the vommunities here, who will also be consulted on security issues.

Most importantly, Osterode will be a safer place for these communities as plans are finalised for their return to their former homes in the Roma Mahala or elsewhere.  Here they can be properly treated for heavy metal pollution and given a chance to have a healthier life. This is only a temporary measure, a stepping stone on their journey home. While work on reconstruction of the Roma Mahala will be vigorously pursued, the emergency health situation must be addressed without any further delay.

UNMIK, WHO and UNICEF appeal to the communities, local authorities and community leaders to act in the best interests of their children and to move immediately from the polluted and unhygienic camps into the new facility.

For more information:

Neeraj SINGH, Press Office, UNMIK. Tel: (+ 381) 38 504 604 extension: 5711.  Mobile: (+ 377) 44 151 851. E-mail: singh60@un.org

 

 
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