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IPEN

A Toxics-Free Future

Lethal air pollution with no responsibility. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina lack information and efficient protection by law

ZENICA/PRAGUE – Despite the highly toxic air in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), only limited data on levels of pollution is accessible to the public. The government is failing to meet its international obligations, as well as those under domestic law, and publish a transparent register of major polluters. People thus do not know who is really poisoning them and to what extent and cannot effectively enforce the necessary improvements.

Obsolete industrial giants, together with weak enforcement of environmental legislation, corruption, and the overcomplicated structure of the state authorities, are to blame for the air pollution, experts say.

“According to domestic law, major polluters in Bosnia and Herzegovina are obliged to provide data on their emissions to the state authorities, and they have been responsible for their verification and publishing since 2002 and 2003 respectively [1]. Unfortunately, information is not publicly available even nowadays. As a result, it is virtually impossible to check whether the industry follows permitted levels of pollution, and neither can citizens learn who is polluting their environment. Our alternative website Eko.ba brings the citizens at least the information that is available, although, because of a lack of data, we are unable to present the whole picture,” stated the chair of the Citizens Support Centre of Arnika Association (Czech Republic), Martin Skalský.

“In reality, the data collected from polluters is available only upon official request, which is usually answered by the respective authorities after long delays, and applicants often receive the information too late to be able to use it in decision-making procedures,” says Professor Samir Lemeš, president of the Steering Board of Eko forum Zenica NGO. According to him, “there is a possibility that the authorities act in favour of polluters, using the poor economic situation and low employment rate as an excuse to hide emissions data from the public. Meanwhile, the air pollution, especially with dust and sulphur dioxide (SO2), is significant in our country.”

The Western Balkan country has not ratified the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR), a mandatory information tool for the signatories of the PRTR Protocol to the UNECE Aarhus Convention on environmental democracy [2], signed by BiH as long ago as 2003. Since a publicly accessible online register is one of the EU's demands within the approximation of environmental legislation, at least the authorities of the Federation of BiH started some preliminary stages. The Ministry of the Environment of the FBiH issues annual reports on the data provided by the polluters. Meanwhile, no data exists from the Republika Srpska of BiH [3], where some of the main polluters are located, for example the Gacko, Ugljevik, and Stanari coal power plants.

Top polluters revealed

Insufficient access to information on environmental matters was recently described by Czech and Bosnian experts in an analysis presented at the 6th Conference of the Parties to the UNECE Aarhus Convention in 2017 [4]. Allegedly, nothing has changed to this day. The environmental responsibilities are fragmented and the only state-level institution tasked with collecting and reporting data from both entities is the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, which fails to do so as a result of its limited capacities and lack of cooperation with entity-level institutions.

This week, environmentalists published a list of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s worst polluters [5]. The top ten is dominated by ArcelorMittal Zenica, the Tuzla thermal power plant, and the chemical factories in Lukavac. However, the missing or incorrect data from the polluters has presumably influenced the comparison, experts say.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered amongst the countries with the most polluted air in Europe, with one of the highest levels of mortality from air conditions globally [6]. According to UN Environment, 44,000 years of life are lost each year as a result of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide, or ozone pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Air pollution eats up over 21.5% of the country’s GDP [7]. Also, Bosnian-Herzegovinian cities top the European list of the places worst polluted with PM2.5 dust particles [8].


Remarks for editors:

[1] ‘Law on the Protection of the Environment (Official Gazette FBiH, No. 33/03), article 28’ and ‘Republika Srpska of BiH: Law on the Protection of the Environment (Official Newsletter RS, No. 53/02 and 109/05), article 102’

[2] The Kiev Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers is an amendment to the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and became an international law that was binding for its signatories on 8 October 2009. It aims to enhance public access to information through the establishment of coherent, integrated, national registers, which could facilitate public participation in environmental decision making and also contribute to the prevention and reduction of pollution. (https://prtr.unece.org/)

[3] The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is formed of a Serbian entity (Republika Srpska) and a Muslim-Croat entity (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). The central government ties both together in a fragile state.

[4] In September 2017, Arnika published an Aarhus Convention implementation shadow report for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Environmental Democracy: Progress Unreported study was then presented at the international Meeting of the Parties in Budva, Montenegro.

[5] Who poisons the air in Bosnia-Herzegovina? The top 10 shows the worst industrial polluters (Arnika.org)

[6] According to the most up-to-date WHO statistics (Who.int), “Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Albania, and Ukraine have the highest European mortality rates attributed to home and air pollution. Many of these same countries, as well as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Poland, and Hungary, have the highest average annual levels of city air pollution. On both spectra, Bosnia and Herzegovina is listed as the worst European performer.” Which European countries are the most polluted? (Euronews.com)

[7] Coming up for clean air in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UnEnvironment.org)

[8] Worldʼs most polluted cities 2018 (PM2.5) – The list, put together by the AirVisual monitoring portal, only includes the cities with available and accessible data for PM2.5. This surely excludes some highly polluted cities where these particles are not being monitored, for example the two biggest cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo and Banja Luka.

 

Martin Skalský | Arnika | chair of the association | martin.skalsky@arnika.org

Martin Holzknecht | Arnika | press-officer | (+420)602 850 912, martin.holzknecht@arnika.org

Samir Lemeš | Eko forum Zenica | president of the Steering Board | slemes@gmail.com