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Coming up for clean air in Bosnia and Herzegovina

MD Staff

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The Dayton Accords reached 22 years ago heralded an era of peace for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Yet the country is now estimated to be the second deadliest in the world for another killer, responsible for more lives lost worldwide than any war – air pollution.

Electricity produced from coal can appear cheap in the short-term. It has been seen by many to be a development opportunity. The electricity is even exported to neighbouring countries.

Yet what price does cheap and dirty energy place on people’s health, the environment and development?

Pollution exodus

Tuzla is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest coal power station. Lignite, the dirtiest form of coal, is heated to several hundred degrees Celsius as it roars into action. The heat and steam produced turns a generator to produce electricity. At the same time, the plant releases 51,000 tonnes of toxic sulphur dioxide and other pollutants into the air each year, just across the road from a primary school in the town of Divkovići.

Air pollution such as from this coal power plant is contributing to respiratory diseases and heart problems, cancer and asthma. In Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, 44,000 years of life are lost each year due to particulate matter or nitrogen dioxide – such as that produced in Tuzla – or ozone pollution. More broadly, air pollution eats over 21.5 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s GDP through lost work and school days, healthcare and fuel costs for example.

Filters are used on Tuzla coal plant’s towers. Yet once expired, these are disposed of at the disposal site together with the putrid pollution they collect. Winds can therefore pick up and scatter ash pollution onto nearby homes in Divkovići – whose centre is just 1.5 kilometres away.

Meanwhile, near the coal plant, waste ash and coal slag from the plant are pumped into vast landfill sites that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Vast amounts of water must be added to pump the waste to these sites. As a result, what was once farmland nearby now resembles a swamp. A house that a family once called home is also partially slumped into the ground, out of bounds due to a landslide. Heavy metals from the waste are seeping into nearby rivers, while even more chemicals are added to stop pipes from being clogged, causing the flooded space to gleam a dystopian, almost fluorescent blue. “It looks even brighter in the summer,” reveals Denis Zisko, Energy and Climate Change Coordinator at Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Centre of Ecology and Energy, as he guides us through the safest path to take a look.

Construction material reveals that the coal plant is set for expansion. “We pay for this with our health,” Denis says.

Near to coal plants such as Tuzla, locals are presented with the dilemma of whether to stay close to the polluted environment or pack their bags.

“People have left this town – for the graveyard… soon no one will live here” a local told international media reporting on pollution here. Reports suggest that the local population has been decimated from 500 to around 30 residents.

“This town was once the largest producer of roses in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Blaško Iveljić, who lives a short walk away from the toxic landfill, tells us with some pride. Yet after once caring for adjacent land and even raising sheep and cattle here, he since saved money to ensure his family could move out and buy a flat away from the pollution.

A thin layer of ash coats some of the courgettes stretching across Iveljic’s garden, while the air increasingly rakes at our throats and stings our eyes. Pollution has made Tuzla’s toxic surroundings feel uninhabitable.

School term cut short

In the Bosnia Herzegovian capital of Sarajevo, safe limits of particulate matter are often exceeded for 60-90 days a year, sometimes reaching up to 200 days.

Rather than industry, heavy traffic, poor spatial planning, solid-fuel based heating and natural factors are to blame for the poor air quality.

Soaring pollution levels in winter mean that school term is sometimes ended early – as has been the case at the city’s Environment Studies and Woodwork high school.

“I found out that school would be closed by watching the news. I was sort of happy not to go, but sad that this was due to air pollution,” says Amar, who studies horticulture there. “In winter, I don’t exercise outside. Sometimes it’s hard to even breathe,” he insists.

“My family leaves the city when the air gets too bad – normally for at least five or six days a year,” adds his classmate Samir, in what is a common escape for those that can afford it.

Powering a response

UN Environment’s Pollution report, issued ahead of the third Environment Assembly that took place under the same theme, recommends data sharing as part of the solution. In order to issue warnings for citizens to evade pollution or measure the effectiveness of actions to counter it, robust data is needed that can be easily shared.

Air quality monitoring stations being installed or refurbished by UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility, with data accessible in real-time online, can therefore make a real difference.

“Five to seven years ago, people were not even talking about air pollution here,” notes Enis Omerčić, air quality specialist at a hydro meteorological institute, at the Ivan Sedlo station outside Sarajevo.

Now, awareness and desire for change is growing.

Air pollution is increasingly on the lips of politicians and news reporters. Fresh efforts to raise awareness on the impacts of air pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina and stimulate solutions will also take place under the UN Air Quality Initiative and Response.

AirQ software will provide data linking air pollution types with specific health effects, helping drive policy responses. New air quality monitoring stations are also planned for urban areas and the country considering joining the Breathe Life campaign.

UN Environment’s Pollution report also points to inadequate administrative capacity and a lack of political will as gaps seen in the fight to beat pollution.

Until now, “the costs of health, economic and ecosystem losses have not been given due attention in policy creation,” one Entity’s Environment Minister Edita Ɖapo admitted at the ‘Clean air for all’ conference convened by UN Environment in October.

Path for action

The air quality resolution agreed on agreed by countries at the UN Environment Assembly aims to improve data quality and create the conditions for clean energy and transport, unleashing sustainable development.

UN Environment is called on to help countries put in place affordable air quality networks and raise awareness, and to support countries in identifying, prioritizing and addressing key sources of air pollution.

While much remains to be done, this has already started on the ground in in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Heating for homes and businesses is one of the biggest energy guzzlers in the country.

UN Environment is therefore helping the country’s second-largest city – Banja Luka – to switch their heating system from heavy oil to renewables, as part of a project under the District Heating in Cities Initiative.

The transition will see ten biomass boilers installed, slashing harmful sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions by over 90 per cent while saving almost €1 million in fuel costs each year.

History shows that catastrophes involving enormous environmental damage can lead to their prevention and even significant improvements in air quality, noted Christer Johansson, a special advisor to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, at the Clean Air for All event.

“Many people suffer from air pollution here,” recognizes Harun, who has nearly completed his studies at Sarajevo’s environment and woodwork high school. “We need to bring change”.

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Green Planet

Water logging and Salinity: A threat in the face of barrenness

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The Annual cost of crop losses from the problem of water logging and salinity has been estimated between Rs 15bn and Rs 55bn

Currently, different areas in the world have face the issues of water logging and salinity but they are intensified due to number of factors including unsuitable pattern of cropping, floods and heavy rain falls and uncontrolled drainage.

Water Logging and salinity are the most devastating effects of the irrigation development. Though, both of them are entirely different problems but still they are discussed as twin problems with reference to Pakistan. As we know that Pakistan has alluvial soil means when less amount of water is given to the land all those salts that are present under the soil start gathering on the surface near the roots and if such land are not properly leached with the passage of time those lands will lose their fertility turning into barren lands.

According to the report published by the United Nations food organization out of total 20.8 m hectares cultivable land in Pakistan 1.55 m hectares are affected by water logging whereas 5.33 m hectares affect by salinity. We are losing our cultivable land at very fast rate especially in the areas of Punjab. It is very important to understand the concept of water logging and salinity. Basically, water logging represents the phenomena in which underground water comes to the surface and also gathers on the ground surface of the land. In water logged areas for plants very few spaces are present for air that’s means there is deficiency of oxygen

Whereas in case of salinity the ground water does not reach the desired level casing accumulation of land salts near the roots so in a nut shell one can say that both of these processes decreases the efficiency as well as productivity of cultivable lands. Let me say that all those areas that fall in Indus basin system like Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Jhang have been devastatingly affected by water logging and salinity. Pakistan has been its victim since many decades but it has drastically affected the farmers because of increasing in the percentage of uncultivable land causing major cuts in the incomes of farmers leading to small scale famines and poverty.  In this regard there is no significant role of provincial governments and due to their negligence and lack of planning the farmers are facing low quality production and no subsidies from the government side. Actually the problem of salinity is not natural its man made because of our method of irrigation. River water or canal water is widely used for irrigation that contains high amounts of salts and when the water evaporates large amount of salts remain behind causing salinity. I would like to share some suggestions in order to curb these menaces.

A question is always raised from the farmers side that how to overcome the grave problem of salinity? Simply the application of gypsum into affected lands and soil salinity control by salivation and reclaiming the affected lands. In order to curb water logging the most effective method is biological drainage in which role of trees, bushes and crops is of significance importance to control water logging. It is obvious that selection of crops in water logged areas is important like grain legumes and canola have more power of tolerance against the menace of water logging as compared to beans or cereals. Another question needs to be addressed that can we do anything to mitigate the effects of water logging before it happens? Yes this could be done by following methods increasing nitrogen level of crops before water logging even occurs.

On the other hand nitrogen fertilizers can also be applied at the end of water logging season but it should be done soon after seeding process. The Proper Lining of canals and closure for a temporary period of time is necessary so water will only be used when needed. Installing of tube wells in those areas where we have high underground water tables and plantation of eucalyptus trees in water logged areas. Eventually, both of these problems could be addressed in a proper way if the efficiency of irrigation system gets improved and more and more such crops are cultivated that needs less water in arid and semi arid regions. Moreover improving drainage system should also be prioritized as we receive massive rainfalls and floods during monsoons so incase of inappropriate drainage system the rain water will seep into the soil increasing the water table leading to water logging. If we don’t act soon in the coming next 5 to 10 years nearly half of the cultivable land of Pakistan will become victim of water logging and salinity. Nevertheless it is the responsibility of the government to create awareness among the masses regarding drainage, water logging and salinity and how to curb this menace.

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WWF Launches Activation Hub to Help Prevent 10 Million Metric Tons of Global Plastic Waste

MD Staff

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The global plastic pollution crisis is threatening the natural environment on which we depend – impacting oceans, communities, wildlife, and people at an unprecedented rate. While many companies and organizations are committing to curb plastic pollution, some lack a roadmap to follow when implementing these commitments. Today WWF launched a new activation hub, ReSource: Plastic, to help solve this problem.

WWF estimates as few as 100 companies have the potential to help prevent roughly 10 million metric tons of the world’s plastic waste pollution – If done through industry, private sector and government collaboration. Even more, this number could triple by inspiring a ripple effect across supply chains and industry sectors.

ReSource seeks to tap into this massive potential by helping companies align their large-scale plastic commitments from aspiration to meaningful, measurable action. ReSource will collaborate with industries to ensure a systems-based approach to addressing plastic production, consumption, waste management and recycling as a single system.

ReSource is designed to identify the concrete changes that will make the biggest impacts in reducing a company’s plastic pollution footprint,” said Nik Sekhran, Chief Conservation Officer, World Wildlife Fund. “To get closer to our goal of no plastic in nature will take nothing short of transforming the entire value chain. With ReSource, companies now have access to more advanced tools to maximize, measure and multiply their commitments to make this a reality.”

Six of the world’s leading companies, including Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Tetra Pak and The Coca-Cola Company have signed on as Principal Members.

“Addressing the plastic problem in our oceans, rivers and land is everyone’s responsibility – including the companies that use much of the plastic in the world today.  It’s a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s why we’re so energized by the approach WWF is taking with the ReSource program,” said Virginie Helias, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Procter & Gamble. “ReSource will bring a systems approach in partnership with many stakeholders –  common metrics, best practices, accountability – that is much needed to accelerate progress on long-term solutions.”

A recent report by WWF, “No Plastic in Nature: A Practical Guide for Business Engagement,” examined the scope and causes of the plastic waste crisis and laid out a clear and pragmatic guide for businesses to lead the much-needed plastics revolution.  This guide provided the vision and foundation for the design of ReSource. Measurement and transparent reporting are paramount if this challenge is to be met. ReSource will track and publicly report progress on the amount of plastic waste prevented by participants on an annual basis.

“We are proud to join WWF as a Principal Member of ReSource,” said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer. “This partnership perfectly aligns with our ambition to use our Scale for Good and work with others to develop thoughtful, scalable solutions that will make a significant impact on the plastic pollution challenge.”

WWF is working to change the way the world sources, designs, collects and reuses plastic – taking the approach that no individual, organization, business or government can tackle the root causes of plastic pollution on their own. The complexity of the challenge demands collaboration and ReSource delivers on this demand by connecting companies with other key stakeholders to share discoveries and investments that will multiply the impact of these efforts globally.

Leading organizations tackling the plastic waste crisis, Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and Ocean Conservancy, have joined ReSource as Thought Partners. EMF has already united hundreds of organizations around a set of 2025 targets through the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. EMF will work closely with WWF to ensure ReSource is aligned with their vision of a circular economy for plastics and to provide organizations with the tools needed to achieve these targets.  For years, Ocean Conservancy has convened scientists and businesses around solutions to the ocean plastic crisis through its Trash Free Seas Alliance®, of which WWF is a member.  Ocean Conservancy will help ensure ReSource is informed by deep ocean expertise, particularly as ocean plastic pollution has become a driver for change toward a circular economy.

“World Wildlife Fund is a key partner for Starbucks in our efforts to continue minimizing our environmental footprint,” said John Kelly, Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs and Social Impact, Starbucks. “We look forward to being a part of ReSource: Plastic as we know it takes collaboration to find scalable, truly impactful solutions. We’re committed to learning and leading alongside other brands as we work toward our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably.”

ReSource is part of WWF’s global No Plastic in Nature campaign to protect the world’s oceans and biodiversity by tackling marine litter and unnecessary plastic consumption.

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Prevailing Plastic Pollution in Pakistan

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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In recent times our globe has trodden the path of development and advancement by leaps and bounds. This advancement and progress have taken place up to such extent that a lower class citizen finds himself besieged by multiple machines in his small home. The excess services of the technology have taken the world by storm because it has facilitated humanity with astonishing services. Advancement in technology has a direct link with that of globalization. With the advancement in globalization, the trends of people have altered their preferences. During the last decade, there is a glaring rise in the trends of shopping. The drifts of globalization with capitalism have enticed people to widen their demands. And obviously, one can witness that even a beggar seems to purchase some eatable or aught. With the augmentation in the trends of business and purchasing, there is rampant use of plastic bags and plastic commodities. But this wonder of plastic got a little out of hand.

However, in this technological, globalized, and capitalistic era, our biodiversity with worth trillion dollars is on a perilous verge. Overuse of technological accessories, industrialization, mobilization, and globalization from one perspective have posed a threat to our ecosystem. The one darkest commodity of this globalized and technologically sophisticated world is the menace of plastic. Yes, during these times when the advantages of technology and globalization are getting much publicity, they have posed threat on either side as well. Plastic is one of these perils and has saturated our environment. The invention of this commodity has completely invaded our lives. During these times, everything is at least partly fabricated from plastic. Our clothes, items of furniture, houses, bags, and several items that surround us possess a specific share of plastic in them. In short, our lives are turning into plastic.

Plastic is the biggest threat to biodiversity. The question that arises why it is a threat to the environment? The answer is obvious that plastic is non-biodegradable (not able to be decomposed). The plastic bags that we see on shopping centers usually take 10-100 years to decompose and normal plastic products take 450 years to decompose. According to the report, the world is currently producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic each year. Now imagine for a moment that such a prolific quantity of plastic that is being produced every year, how long it will take to decompose? Centuries of course.

Another question that rears is the plastic that has produced till date, created the perplexity up to which extent? The answer is that it has wreaked havoc in the environment. Particularly, it has harmed marine life. Since heaps of garbage are dumped into the sea, so that refuse involves plastic in it. As seafood is an important source of protein; pollution and damage propagated by plastic are immeasurable. Over 600 marine species are being harmed by plastic pollution every day. Aforementioned that plastic takes many years to decompose, so marine animals can’t digest it. When they ingest plastic bags, gills are wrapped by the plastic bags. In this way, suffocation occurs which leads them to death. Their death brings about further pollution to the sea. By this mean, we are squandering our sea boon.

The issue doesn’t end here, the life on the earth crust and in the atmosphere is also not safe from this menace. Many people inhabited in small towns and village burn plastic, in order to annihilate. The burning of plastic causes damage to the atmosphere as plastic comprises poisonous chemicals. The polluted air when inhaled by humans and animals affect their health and can cause respiratory problems. Likewise, when plastic is dumped in landfills, it interacts with water and forms hazardous chemicals. When these chemicals seep underground, they degrade the water quality. In these ways, plastic is damaging our globe.

Following analyzing the downside of plastic, the next question inevitably dominates the thinking that how much the government of Pakistan is serious to sort out this issue. The answer to this question is the government is iota interested in this matter. Almost eight months have passed yet the government seems uninterested in this matter. Around 55 billion plastic bags are being used annually in Pakistan. In my city or district, I see at every outlet the plastic bags hung. Every customer carries the eatable or necessity item in the plastic bag. There is no observance of the ban on the use of the plastic bag. On the contrary, many European countries have devised plans and passed the rules against the use of plastic bags. The incumbent government is just good at reprimanding the previous governments. Pakistan is among the top 10 polluted countries and doubtlessly plastic pollution is responsible for bringing at status quo. The government should impose a ban on plastic bag manufacturing factories. Also, it should abbreviate the use of plastic commodities.

Multiple convenient solutions have been proposed in combating plastic pollution. Switching to reusable bags would help a lot in reducing plastic pollution. Organic cotton grocery bags, canvas market bags, and, grab bags are the best alternatives to plastic bags. In 2016, after consuming five years searching through piles of waste, Japanese researchers found a strain of bacteria that naturally grew to eat away at polyethylene terephthalate, which is common plastic and known as polyester. This bacteria is known as Mutant Enzyme. The know-how of the proper way to recycle common plastics is necessary, can also do wonders. Arranging awareness seminars on the detrimental effects of plastic is yet another effective way.

Despite many proposed and effective solutions above the incumbent government is tethered to combat the menace of plastic. The government should be mindful that if we keep going on this trajectory, there will be more plastic than fish by 2050. The government, the NGO’s, social welfare organization, civil societies, and we as the unit should join hands together to fight that perilous issue lest it should late. 

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