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Air pollution

Bosnian cities top world air pollution charts but no quick fix in sight

Bosnian cities top world air pollution charts but no quick fix in sight
General view of the surroundings of the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 13 November 2023. With an AQI (Air Quality Index) of 157, which is labeled as 'unhealthy', the Bosnian capital is among the most polluted cities in the world, ranking in 6th place on 13 November 2023. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR

SARAJEVO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Bosnian towns have topped the world air pollution charts since last weekend, with the capital Sarajevo declaring an air quality warning and experts blaming residential solid fuel burning and transportation for the increase.

Despite Sarajevo authorities’ pledge to make the city carbon-free by 2035, a cost of living crisis has forced people to choose cheaper solid fuels for home heating and to drive older cars with higher emissions of pollutants, experts say.

The use of gas in the capital has fallen 18% so far this year from the last due to higher prices, the data show.

Most people would rather use more ecological fuels but they use what they can afford, said Enis Krecinic, an environmental expert at the Hydro-Meteorological Institute of Bosnia´s autonomous Bosniak-Croat federation.

“The social aspect influences what people will use to heat their homes, what cars they will drive, what fuel they will choose,” Krecinic told Reuters.

Bosnia has among the highest levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in Europe, to which the burning of solid fuel for home heating and the transport sector contribute about 50% and 20% respectively, according to the World Bank.

The country, and especially Sarajevo, which is nested in a valley among mountains, has suffered from poor air quality for decades.

Despite the closure of its mining and heavy industry Bosnia remains one of the most polluted countries in Europe.

Krecinic said Sarajevo was at risk during winter months due to temperature variations but that other cities, such as Zenica located in the central Bosnian “coal valley”, have had more days of excessive pollution during the calendar year.

Physicians say that exposure to fine particulate matter poses serious health risks, leading to respiratory infections, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and premature deaths.

“Absolutely the air pollution … in Sarajevo brings about changes and health difficulties, such as pneumonia, for both young and old,” said Teufik Hadziosmanovic, a lung specialist.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic and Amel Emric; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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