Air pollution in Bosnia kills thousands of people prematurely each year, and harms the health of thousands more. In spite of this, Bosnian authorities have failed to take concrete action to tackle the issue, says Human Rights Watch.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s reliance on coal and wood for heat and electricity generation makes the country’s cities some of the world’s most polluted during the winter months. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bosnia and Herzegovina has the fifth-highest mortality rate from air pollution in the world.
“An outdated reliance on coal in Bosnia and Herzegovina is killing thousands every year, while the authorities do little to prevent the problem or even to warn people of the risk to their health,” says Felix Horne, senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“With air pollution season just a few months away, there is no time to waste to start making changes.”
During the cold winter months, levels of fine particulate matter, nitrous dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other deadly pollutants in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s air regularly exceed levels the WHO considers safe for human health.
Every year, an estimated 3,300 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina die prematurely from exposure to air pollution, amounting to nine percent of all deaths. Thousands more people live with increased respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
Children and older people are particularly at risk to the health impacts of air pollution.
Electricity in Bosnia and Herzegovina is produced by burning lignite, a low-quality, highly polluting form of coal. Lignite is an abundant source of energy in the country, and is burned in outdated coal plants.
At the same time, low-quality insulation in homes, and the use of coal, wood and other plant materials for heating, contributes to pollution. Winter air pollution is then made worse by inversion, with pollutants trapped in narrow river valleys where a number of cities are located.
Old and highly-polluting vehicles are another major source of pollution in the country.
Residents living near some of the country’s five coal plants told Human Rights Watch that friends, family and neighbours had died from cancer and cardiovascular, or respiratory ailments they saw as being linked to air pollution from nearby plants. Healthcare workers said they had seen increased rates of respiratory plants in areas near the coal plants.
Local government officials say the country’s 17 air pollution monitoring stations are out of service at times, particularly in Republika Srpska. At the same time, authorities appear to lack the political willpower to rapidly transition away from the burning of fossil fuels and toward cleaner, renewable energy sources.
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