Lung Run Ugljevik: a race against time for a just transition
Under the motto ‘Run for clean air – step by step for a just transition’ more than 50 people from eight countries gathered on 29 October in Ugljevik, Bosnia and Herzegovina to raise awareness about the urgency of a clean and sustainable future for coal dependent regions in the Western Balkans in a ten-kilometre trail running event.
30 October 2022
The town of Ugljevik is home to the region’s highest sulphur dioxide (SO2) emitter, despite having equipment that is supposed to reduce such emissions installed since 2020. These emissions can travel thousands of kilometers. They are toxic to humans when inhaled and can cause severe irritation to the nose and throat.
It takes time to start the process of just transition and move away from polluting practices and industries, which also requires the commitment of the entire community, alongside the political will. By involving local residents, businesses and authorities in the organisation of this year’s event, the Lung Run highlighted the potential for sustainable development of the region and thriving community. Most of the products used in the event were prepared by local organisations that promote sustainable agriculture and prepare food using only local produce.
On the other hand, Lung Run participants had a chance to run 10 kilometres in the shoes of local residents and experience the consequences of a short-term exposure to air pollution. Volunteers ran with portable air quality detectors which measured dust pollution and NOx in real time, in order to show the variations in pollution levels along the course and see a sample of what the local community is exposed to every day.
One of the aims of the Lung Run is to raise awareness of the significant impact air pollution can have on the health of the communities, but also its contribution to biodiversity loss and climate change exacerbation. Air pollution recognises no borders and needs strong and decisive actions to mitigate its effects.
Davor Pehchevski, Balkan air pollution campaign coordinator, CEE Bankwatch Network, said, ‘Although we started The Lung Run with monitoring air pollution in mind, this year’s edition was a true celebration of community engagement and cooperation, the living proof that if we want a successful transition of coal mining regions, the locals must be at the heart of it, driving the change. The international donor community that will finance just transition in the Western Balkans must always involve local communities and learn from their real needs’.
Jelena Djuric Spasojevic, president of association Rudar, said, ‘We want to live a long healthy life here, in Ugljevik, where our home is. We want our children and grandchildren to have good job opportunities and not have to leave and go elsewhere for that. We believe that sustainable tourism, agriculture and farming are our future. The Lung Run event is a sneak peek of what the future can bring here and we welcome it’.
Dragan Ostic, Center for Environment, said, ‘The people in Ugljevik have long suffered the impacts of coal mining and burning, as well as the limitations of living in a mono-industrial town without many employment options other than the industry which is harming them. The Lung Run showed that there are alternative business opportunities and that Ugljevik can become an attraction for a growing international running community that cares about the air they breathe’.
This year’s edition was co-organised by CEE Bankwatch Network, Modern Escape Europe (Zenica) and the Center for Environment (Banja Luka).
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