Human Rights Watch: Air Pollution Killing Thousands in Bosnia

Watchdog organisation says Bosnia’s dependency on coal and wood for heat and electricity generation kills thousands of people each year.

Human Rights Watch has again drawn attention to the problem of air pollution in Bosnian cities. “Nine per cent of the country’s deaths are due to air pollution and an estimated 3,300 people die prematurely every year as a result of exposure to ambient PM2.5 air pollution,” an HRW report published on Monday says. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina produces electricity by burning lignite, a low-quality type of coal found in abundance in the country, in outdated coal plants.

However, Bosnia’s complex governance system creates extra difficulties in tackling air pollution as there is no national environment body and almost no coordination between different levels of government. 

“Despite the health and climate impacts, the government has remained steadfastly committed to use of coal, particularly for electricity,” HRW notes. 

It says the state government also does not take adequate steps to inform citizens about the health risks of air pollution, or how to mitigate those risks. 

“Air pollution affects everyone but there is a disproportionate impact on older people, children, and those with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular problems,” the watchdog organisation continues. 

It estimates that air pollution reduces the country’s GDP by as much as 21.5 per cent through lost work and school days, and healthcare and fuel costs.  

Beside burning wood and coal for heating and electricity, “low fuel quality standards, aging industrial plants, lack of effective public transportation and older diesel vehicles” also contribute to air pollution, HRW adds. 

Because air pollutants easily travel across borders, the impact of the country’s polluted air extends into the EU. A 2019 study using 2016 data recorded 3,000 premature deaths in the EU from air pollution in the Western Balkans, and it is estimated to cost the EU between 3.1 and 5.8 billion euros each year.

The WHO, HRW says, has identified air pollution as the “single biggest environmental threat to human health,” with estimates of over seven million people dying prematurely from it annually, including 4.2 million from outdoor (or ambient) air pollution.

Human Rights Watch: Air Pollution Killing Thousands in Bosnia | Balkan Insight

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