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Humans · Nature

Polluted air awakens the spirits of rigid communism

February 11th, 2019
topics:Humans, Nature
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Bosnia and Herzegovina
tags:Bosnia and Herzegovina, environment, pollution, Sarajevo, World Health Organisation (WHO)

It’s been less than five years since Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) installed its first air quality meters. For that period of time, it reached several unwanted records. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2016 and in 2017, it was among the top ten countries for air pollution mortality.

According to the US embassies, that regularly monitor the environmental situation of the cities where based, Sarajevo was the most polluted capital in the world from December 2 to 4, 2018.

It seems again that everyone in this country is handling the situation better than the authorities do. People still retell about their 2016 attempt to impose a temporary measure to reduce air pollution which says one day cars with an even number at the end of their plate were allowed to drive and the next day the ones with an odd number may use the roads. The public reacted furiously and made the authorities withdraw the decision. Such a measure is often used because of lack of fuel during the rigid communism in former Yugoslavia and other communist countries.

Another attempt that smells like old-time spirits: removing the air quality device from the most occupied traffic loop in Sarajevo to the Miljacka river bank. Yet, today you cannot hide air quality index (AQI) anymore. On every smartphone one may install the applications which measure air pollution indicators.

The things are gradually getting worse as winter approaches due to excessive use of coal, excessive traffic, poor spatial planning and the use of solid fuels for heating homes. Back to 2014, Bosnia had air quality gauges in the capital and two industrial cities Tuzla and Zenica. Today these cities have three or four instruments and there are nine cities more which have at least one device.

Unlike the politicians, the media, civil society organization, experts, international organization and the citizens do take actions accordingly. News portals used to warn: “Sarajevo is suffocating in smog, going outdoors is not advisable”. Environmental NGO’s used to organize raising awareness workshops all over the country. Experts used to request for a ban of solid fuels since they are by far the most polluting materials.

Khaldoun Sinno, deputy head of the EU Mission to BiH tweeted: “This (air pollution) is not only a seasonal issue in BiH, it is a structural issue that needs to be addressed. We owe it to the citizens of BiH to have this discussion and take concrete steps. Air quality is also an important part of the acquis (the conditions one country has to fulfil to reach the EU membership).” Citizens had using the social networks aggressively to share both pictures of thick fog or smog filling valleys and covering most landmark buildings and their phone apps screenshots.

Another cause of air pollution is lack of energy certifications and emission controls where authorities do not insist on them for big polluter. Arcelor Mittal bought ironworks in Zenica in 2004 and since then people there protest against the air pollution, whereas authorities turn the blind eye, constantly postponing the deadlines the company must implement environmental criteria. Last year the world’s largest steelmaker finally introduced three million euros valued two projects which should reduce the emission of dust.

“We have to remind that the legal limit in BiH is 50 mg/Nm3 and these filters will provide significantly more favourable conditions than what is prescribed by domestic legislation”, the company’s statement reads. It could be too late since the Zenica citizens announced they are going to sue the state because it had done nothing to protect them from air pollution.

These days they are additionally encouraged since the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights found the Italian authorities failed to protect the citizens living in the areas affected by toxic emissions from the Ilva factory in Taranto. (This Italian factory is bought by ArcelorMittal last year in November). The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights 2013 and 2015 by 180 individuals live or have lived in the municipality of Taranto or in neighbouring areas in Italy.

“The Court held that the finding of a violation constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage and that Italy was to pay 5,000 euros (EUR) in respect of costs and expenses in each application”, the press release by the Registrar of the Court reads (issued January 24, 2019, the day the Chamber judgement was announced).

According to the WHO, 97% of cities in low- and middle- income countries struggle with air pollution. In the past two years, the database – now covering more than 4300 cities and settlements in 108 countries – has nearly doubled. As air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.

The situation in the north-western town of Prijedor is not as bad as in capital or industry-oriented cities. Still, it had 117 days over the year 2016 with AQI values do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. The biggest value was enormous 555.6 over an hour; the biggest value over one day was 260.7. Despite the data’s measurability, comparability, and verifiability, local authorities refused to accept them as facts. Instead, they replaced thesis, which is also a heritage of communism.

“You are causing panic among the citizens. I'll have problems here because of that. My political sensors say that this is no coincidence at this moment. I have enough experience to conclude that. The media should be aware of that too when they publish their reports”, said Prijedor’s major last July to environmental experts, alluding to upcoming general election. Back to 2011, Prijedor was one of 13 Bosnian cities signed the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a bottom-up initiative of towns and cities voluntarily committed to reach, or even exceed the European Union's goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% before 2020.

Find out how we can beat air pollution

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
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Embed from Getty Images
Sarajevo was the most polluted capital in the world from December 2 to 4, 2018. (According to the US embassies)
Embed from Getty Images
It seems again that everyone in this country is handling the situation better than the authorities do.
Embed from Getty Images
The things are gradually getting worse as winter approaches due to excessive use of coal, excessive traffic, poor spatial planning and the use of solid fuels for heating homes.

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