Hundreds of people are demanding cleaner air in Serbia.

According to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, Serbia is the country with the highest rate of pollution-related deaths in Europe. The figure stands at 175 per 100,000 people, according to the sanitary watchdog, while according to the World Health Organization, WHO, more than 6,500 people die prematurely in Serbia every year due to the poor quality of the air they breathe.

Poor air quality suffocates many cities in the Western Balkans, a recurring phenomenon every year when the heating season begins and coal-fired power plants begin to operate. Serbia is 70 percent dependent on coal, according to official figures.

Now, the people in Serbia have had enough and are demonstrating in the streets asking the authorities to intervene and stop the air that is harmful to their lungs.

In 2019, the Serbian government launched an initiative to get more electric cars on the roads of Serbia, but still it has not developed a plan on how to tackle air pollution from power plants and domestic heating sources.

The protesters – brought together by a number of civic associations from all over Serbia, who deal with environmental and ecological issues – They demand timely and transparent health alerts and the restriction of traffic on days when pollution is high.

The protest petition delivered to the Government on Sunday, January 10, affirms that the Government “It is violating the Constitution, specifically Article 74, which explicitly establishes that we all have the right to a healthy environment and to timely and complete information on its condition.”

The Serbian government did not respond to requests for an interview on how to tackle air pollution in the country. This occurs in the midst of accusations of data manipulation to lower the threshold of what constitutes noxious air. Recently, the head of the air quality department of the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency was fired for opposing an official change of the threshold for what is considered harmful air pollution.

Serbia is a candidate on the way to join the European Union. Aligning with European environmental standards is presented as a possible obstacle to accession, experts say. The transition to a greener and cleaner economy may become one of the costliest parts of Serbia’s efforts to join the bloc.