Chugging engines, smoking chimneys and thick ambient smog. Air pollution is directly responsible for up to one in five premature deaths in 19 Western Balkan cities, suggest preliminary results from a report led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Seven million people die from air pollution every year, and people living in 95 per cent of cities worldwide breathe air that fails to meet World Health Organization’s guidelines. In response, UNEP is helping cities transform their heating systems, supporting cleaner fuel and vehicles, and helping to monitor air quality, among other work.
In addition to supporting efforts to reduce air pollution, UNEP has launched the ‘Sarajevo Air’ app to help citizens avoid it while walking or cycling across one of the region’s most affected cities.
Based on leading technologies and innovation from the London Air Quality Network, run by the Environmental Research Group of King's College London, the ‘Sarajevo Air’ app calculates the lowest pollution route between any two points in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Users can type in their start and end destination anywhere in the city and the app will present two or three alternative routes with a clear indication of which route exposes the user to the least pollution, based on estimated levels of particulate matter (PM) concentration (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, and ozone pollution.
“People may always have suspected that there are roads that are more polluted than others. We are now making the invisible visible,” said Andrew Grieve, who is a Senior Air Quality Analyst at King’s College London, and was part of the team that developed the app.
Major sources of pollution in Sarajevo include the use of firewood and coal fuel for residential heating in wintertime, an ageing fleet of high-emission vehicles, traffic congestion and industrial plants. Furthermore, because Sarajevo is enclosed by mountains, the city is prone to heavy fog that becomes smog when mixed with air pollution. Due to weak winds, the pollution stays in the city for a long time, causing peaks in particulate matter concentration and exposing citizens to significant health risks, including children playing outdoors.
“Sarajevo was selected for the project because of its poor air quality. and a phone application was developed to raise public awareness on air quality and provide information to the public allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their health and exposure to air pollution,” said Matthew Billot, Senior Coordination Officer in the Science Division of UNEP’s Europe Office.
“The app could definitely be replicated and implemented in other major cities or cities where air quality is an issue. Many cities already have apps that show air quality. The difference is that this is a route selection application based on air quality, taking things a step further. Rather than just showing the air quality in your area, it allows you to choose the least polluted route from A to B,” he said.
Sarajevo has now joined the BreatheLife network of cities led by UNEP, the World Health Organization and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. The 70 member cities are committed to implementing the necessary regulations and creating conditions to support the development of state-of-the-art technology to tackle the air pollution crisis.