In Kosovo UN accused of dragging its feet over fund for lead poisoning

A UN trust fund announced four months ago to help hundreds of people exposed to lead poisoning in Kovoso while housed in UN-run camps has not received any contribution from member-states, the UN spokesman said Thursday.

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A view of a UN run camp in Mitrovica in 2009 play

A view of a UN run camp in Mitrovica in 2009

(AFP/File)
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A UN trust fund announced four months ago to help hundreds of people exposed to lead poisoning in Kovoso while housed in UN-run camps has not received any contribution from member-states, the UN spokesman said Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the creation of the fund in May after a panel found that the UN mission in Kovoso had violated the rights of ethnic Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians by resettling them in camps contaminated by lead from a nearby industrial mine.

The United Nations hopes to raise $5 million to fund community projects in Kosovo, but spokesman Stephane Dujarric said no contributions have been received so far.

"There is no money now, but now that the trust fund has been set up, we will be discussing it with member-states," Dujarric said.

About 600 people were housed in the camps after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war but it took over 10 years for the UN mission to relocate them to a safer area even though it was aware of the health risk since 2000, the rights panel found in 2016.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the UN decision to set up the trust fund and maintains that funds must be made available to help the victims directly with medical care and education support.

On Thursday, the rights group released a report showing that the UN failure to compensate the victims had left hundreds of families struggling to care for sick relatives.

Interviews with 19 victims of lead poisoning and family members showed that many of those exposed, including children, were suffering from memory loss, learning disabilities and other health problems.

Katharina Rall, an environment researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the funds must be "used really for the benefit of the people affected" and urged the United Nations to work with the Kosovo government to help victims gain access to adequate care.

Rall told a news conference at UN headquarters that setting up the trust fund for victims was "like giving someone an empty bank account to rebuild their life."

The UN mission in Kosovo was set up at the end of the war in 1999 and helped govern it until Kosovo’s 2008 independence.

The world body has been struggling to raise funds for several humanitarian efforts and a separate fund to help Haiti deal with the outbreak of cholera has also fallen far short of its $400 million goal.

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