Increased health commitment and commitment needed to clean air in Serbia
Author: Srđan Kukolj, Health and Energy Advisor for the Balkan Region, Alliance for Health and Environment (HEAL)
The launch of the very first national air protection program in the Republic of Serbia with an action plan is a unique opportunity to reduce the high rates of disease.
Air pollution is the biggest environmental challenge threatening the public health of the Republic of Serbia for decades. Air pollution has been linked to multiple illnesses, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and reduced life expectancy. The World Health Organization estimated that exposure to ambient air pollution was the cause of 6,592 deaths and 131,183 years of life lost in the Republic of Serbia in 2016..
Air pollution in this country remains one of the highest in Europe and has a direct impact on the health of citizens. The very high concentrations of atmospheric pollutants are mainly due to emissions from industrial installations, energy sector (like coal-fired power plants), home heating (mainly wood and coal stoves) and transport (older vehicles). In order to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on the health of European citizens, the The Republic of Serbia should define more ambitious actions to go hand in hand with other Member States of the European Union.
Scientific evidence should be the cornerstone of policy making
In 2018, the government of the Republic of Serbia adopted a Public health strategy 2018-2026 which deals with the overall protection of the environment and human health. The strategy calls for reducing the impact of environmental risks on public health, by specifically mentioning the implementation of international legal obligations on the environment, improving the state of the environment, responding to climate change and the reduction of harmful gas emissions from industrial installations, domestic heating and transport compared to 2015 by 20%. To support these actions, there is the Law on Public Health which deals with actions for the protection of public health of the Republic of Serbia, including the implementation of a population health risk assessment based on the register (cadastre) of pollution sources. , monitoring and evaluation of the state of health of citizens and evaluation of health risks linked to environmental impacts.
Although these health milestones have been set, Serbian citizens still suffer from acute and chronic illnesses due to exposure to high levels of air pollution. The country lacks cross-sectoral cooperation that will strengthen the response to air pollution reduction, health experts do not participate equally in the development of environmental policies. A multisectoral approach, involving relevant sectors such as health, environment, finance, power generation, industry and transport, is needed to develop policies that reduce the risks of air pollution to health.
In addition, the national public health institution of the Republic of Serbia which analyzes the concentration of pollutants in the air is the Serbian Public Health Institute “Dr Milan Jovanović Batut”. Each year, the Institute publishes data on air quality through the Yearbook of health statistics of the Republic of Serbia, highlighting cities where air pollution has exceeded limits. These reports have been published for years and policymakers have failed to take into account the importance of this data in creating a rapid health response aimed at reducing the adverse effects of air pollution on public health. In 2020, this institute recognized the importance of air quality monitoring to assess the impact of polluted air on the citizens of this country, and the findings confirm that the the trend towards low representation of particulate pollution monitoring with PM10 and PM2.5 has continued, which may have serious public health implications.
Serbia is halfway to launching its first national air protection program
The country has made efforts to develop a legal framework to strengthen environmental mitigation, including energy transition laws, climate change law, and plans to launch the Republic’s first-ever national air protection program. of Serbia with an action plan by the end of this year. , but air pollution still exceeds the limits set by the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines. In order to demonstrate its desire to mitigate environmental impacts, the government must involve health experts and scientists at all stages of the process, including in the evaluation of the draft national air protection program in the Republic. of Serbia with an action plan. This scientific exercise will give the health community a chance to integrate public health measures into the strategy that will lead to rapid prevention of disease and premature death in the future. The development of the air protection program in the Republic of Serbia with an action plan is supported by the European Union through the IPA 2014 project “EU for a better environment – Developing a framework for alignment with EU legislation on air, chemicals and horizontal issues“.
On the way to joining the European Union, the Republic of Serbia has taken responsibility for strengthening the response to air pollution, which will improve the health of European citizens. The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia should take the initiative to implement public health policies that will lead to a reduction in health and economic losses.
Environmental health impacts can be addressed in the most cost-effective manner through strategies that simultaneously consider multiple pollutants from multiple source sectors, as well as factors such as future population and economic growth.
To move forward, the Republic of Serbia must take the following steps:
- Carry out a health impact study for all deliberations and decisions of industrial facilities, the energy sector, domestic heating and transport. This means that each project is assessed for its effects, damage and potential benefits for the health of a population, both in the country concerned and beyond.
- Identify and prioritize the measures that will provide the greatest health benefit. Air pollution is a public threat and must be tackled with strategic measures aimed at a healthier future and economic growth.
- The country should increase the participation of health experts in decision-making processes to ensure that the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies is in place.
- Scientific evidence should be the cornerstone of policy making. The country must make decisions based on scientific evidence, using the knowledge of the international and national scientific community.
- The country should encourage the public interest in decision-making processes using legal mechanisms that will ensure a higher level of transparency in the work of public institutions. Efficiency in the implementation of laws and decisions in the field of industrial facilities, energy sector, home heating and transport should be increased in order to achieve greater health and economic benefits for all citizens.