In 1885 Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the first city in Europe and second in the world to San Francisco to have an electric tram network running through the city. But while many countries insist on electric vehicles to contribute to the prevention of pollution, Sarajevo has gone backward. It has been named one of the most polluted cities in the world, and it comes as no surprise.
Sarajevo, which is nestled in the valley surrounded by the high mountains and Dinaric Alps in the heart of the Western Balkans, has always suffered from the high concentration of smog, fog, and dust. And with the construction of skyscrapers in the post-war country, it blocked the airflow in the city. Combined that with old polluting vehicles and increase of coal used for heating have contributed to air so polluted that the government has advised its citizens to stay indoors, canceled outdoor events, and banned freight vehicles in the city. They have reduced the usage of central heating relying on coal within buildings and banned any construction which produces dust.
The concentration of 500 microgrammes per cubic meter is considered to be dangerous enough. Still, in Sarajevo, that level is sometimes exceeded 1,000 microgrammes per cubic meter so much that the life expectancy has been reduced by 1.3 years.
In the 1970s, the government introduced gas as a form of heating to reduce pollution, but after the war with challenging Bosnian economy, people went back to coal as it was cheaper. And the government plans to build another coal plant chocking its people further. They have, however, launched criminal charges against the owners of local steel companies, Arcelor-Mittal, for not contributing to the reduction of the pollution in the city, but cases like that with a corrupt judicial system in Bosnia will take a long time to process.
Air pollution, closely linked to climate change, can have severe effects on health, especially in older people, and children who breathe in 90% of toxic air, and according to the WHO:
“The health effects of air pollution are serious – one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.”
The severity of the problem in Sarajevo forced the ambassadors of foreign countries, including the U.S., to show up to the meeting with Bosnian authorities wearing masks covering their nose and mouth. The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo has a department that checks the air quality in the city daily, and the results every day show dangerous levels of air pollution. Last week the value for PM10 particulate matter had been between two and five times the European Union level of 50 micrograms per cubic meter. As of this morning, Sarajevo PM2.5 is at 142 AQI – Unhealthy for sensitive groups, according to the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo air quality monitoring equipment.
The solution for Sarajevo is transitioning to low-carbon facilities, the use of more sustainable forms of transport, tax individuals with old pollution emitting cars, of which there are many in Sarajevo. The government could also begin a process to reduce dependence on coal, and in its place could be gas. Introduce programs and policies that could contribute to a change in people’s behavior. Still, the Bosnian government is within its right to ask EU and other international organizations for help in tackling the pollution. That would help reduce illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer, which is the most common amongst men in Bosnia, and it is not due to smoking but due to the air pollution that is poisoning their lungs.