Thu, 27 Feb 2020

Protesters in Sarajevo on January 20 assembled to draw attention to dangerously high levels of air pollution in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some of the demonstrators among the dozens who gathered outside Sarajevo's government building wore face masks amid the thick fog mixed with fine particle pollution that has for weeks settled over the city.

They urged the authorities to take action and said they wanted to raise public awareness of the decades-old problem that has troubled the city situated in a valley among the mountains.

The air quality index in recent weeks has surpassed the European Union's safety norms several times.

Sarajevo Canton authorities have started implementing emergency measures, urging residents not to burn coal and wood and banned the use of vehicles run on diesel fuel.

On January 17, authorities said they will offer free rides on public transportation to help reduce exhaust emissions.

Foreign ambassadors, some wearing masks, also held a meeting on January 20 with the Sarajevo authorities to discuss air quality.

Earlier in the month, the Swedish embassy said on social media that pollution in the city was so bad it was "in a category of its own when it comes to bad air quality."

Recommendations by city authorities for people to wear protective masks outdoors has been met by criticism as some residents have noted on social media that the government hasn't purchased such masks for city workers, such as police and public transport workers.

Other cities in Bosnia like Ilijas and Tuzla also suffer from hazardous levels of damaging airborne particles.

Peoples' behaviors must change too to address the problem and it won't go away overnight, local government head Edin Forto told the protesters, as cited by AP.

"A lot of people refuse to change their routine," he said. "They don't want us to stop the traffic or cancel classes [because of pollution], so we need to work to raise awareness."

He added that that masks and air purifiers will be provided to the most vulnerable categories of people in the city, especially for children, in the next few days.

With reporting by Balkan Insight, AP, N1, and Sarajevo Times

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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