Bregu: Polluted air is killing us

SARAJEVO, January 15 (FENA) – The importance of solving air pollution comes at the right time when the cities of the Western Balkans, and especially Sarajevo, are at the top of the list of the most polluted cities in the world, said Majlinda Bregu, Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) in an interview with FENA.

Author: Hana Imamović

Bregu explains that for residents of the region there is no need to keep track of the air pollution statistics on the internet because they, unfortunately, live it, but the alarming warnings these days that speak about warnings about going out or even opening the windows are not soothing at all.

“We have beautiful mountains, but going there to ski, snowboard or hike should be our choice, not a means of survival. This is exactly what people do, taking children to the mountains over the weekend in an effort to mitigate the harmful effects of days spent in the city fog or confined in their homes,” she said.

She added that the fact that the air is polluted to the extent that is dangerous to health is constantly neglected, and going to the mountains on weekends cannot be a solution and especially not a long-term one.

“Since environmental and climate change measures are constantly at the bottom of the list of government investment and budget allocations, the real cost of air pollution is paid by our health,” Bregu warned.

The statistics are ruthless, and apart from the fact that the cities in the region are the most polluted ones, the data show that 26 percent of all known non-communicable diseases in the region are caused by air pollution.

Bregu noted that the total number of premature deaths that can be directly attributed to air pollution in cities reaches almost 5,000 a year. Many old power plants provide cheap energy, but this cost is too high if the stake is human health, since about 21,000 premature deaths a year can be attributed to air pollution from households.

The transport sector, which is another major source of CO2 emissions, is responsible for seven percent of the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions, while 13 percent of all premature deaths caused by air pollution are linked to the transport sector.

There are plentiful of alarming information and just as many signs in our daily lives that have been around for years that require action, and she noted that even if something is done today, the truth is that we are, unfortunately, already late.

“Despite this fact, citizens’ opinions are divided. The latest issue of our ‘Balkan Barometer’ survey shows that nine out of ten people think pollution is a problem in their community. However, 32 percent of people say they are not ready to use more environmentally friendly products,” she said.

Also, the number of businesses that have taken some measures to reduce their environmental footprint has decreased by 13 percent compared to 2017, and now stands at 64 percent.

Therefore, beyond concrete action, more work needs to be done to raise citizens’ awareness that everyone, including children, can and should contribute to change, not only with the aim of reducing air pollution but also other aspects of environmental protection, as all this affects climate change that has become one of the biggest global problems of today.

She outlined several small steps that can be taken, such as saving energy, finding alternative and cleaner heating solutions, using cars more efficiently and giving priority to city transportation or cycling, but also reducing the use of plastic containers and bags, keeping waste out of the rivers, mountains, the fields and forests to keep them clean, proper disposal of waste, turning to homemade food, reducing paper printing and so on.

Governments and local governments, which are aware of the dramatic situation with air pollution across the region, need to work harder and start implementing concrete, systematic measures, emphasized Bregu.

These measures mean rejecting old, outdated technologies and introducing new ones, along with sensors for measuring air quality, instead of the common practice of using cheap fuels for heating at the expense of citizens’ health.

“This might be more expensive, but it is necessary if we want to change something. What I’m sure of is that this level of air pollution is a serious threat to our lives,” Bregu concluded.