Since Gacko thermal power plant was built in 1983, pollution is a current problem and the everyday life of this town. This is being talked about for more than 30 years, but no one is solving the problem. Today, this thermal power plant is one of the largest European polluters. The harmful emitted particles affect not only the health of the population in Gacko and the region but also throughout Europe. What are all the dangers of Gacko‘s coal mine and thermal power plant is actually not known, because a study to answer these questions, despite the initiatives to produce it, has never been done. This Herzegovinian town is almost full surrounded by mine pits, and its panorama is dominated by this power plant.
According to the latest analysis published on Tuesday, February 19th by a network of regional and European NGOs, Gacko thermal power plant is the second biggest polluter in the Western Balkans fine particle polluter (PM10). Emissions of PM10 in 2016 “caused 158 deaths, 414 cases of bronchitis in children and adults, 115 hospitalisations”. More details can be found in the table below, and a complete analysis can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uYGVkZeAVBYhWfKxcOjuIxFU5RdM–M9/view
Environmental criminal at work
“In the surroundings of the city, there is an open pit and a landfill. There is continuous noise and dust, air pollution, pollution of soil, water… Dangers are multiple. However, given that we do not have a study on the impact of the work of the mine and the thermal power plant on health, we can only conclude that the number of cancers is increasing, primarily the lungs and respiratory organs” – said Milanka Kovačević, a journalist and activist from Gacko. She explains that this city before the construction of the thermal power plant was known for its clean air and that at that time there were no asthma or bronchitis in children, whereas today, every second child, according to the Health Center official data, has problems with these diseases.
According to Slobodan Golubović, a criminologist from Gacko, this situation worsened in 2013-2014, when the excavation of the surface layer of coal began, which has the most harmful admixtures.
“Every coal pollutes the environment, but this one is really disastrous. It is evident that from 2013-2014 the number of patients with malignant diseases has significantly increased. Entire families are disappearing! Everyone responsible for this is shutting about it: People in charge of the coal mine and the thermal power plant, those who allow them this in the sake of social or who knows which peace, the authorities in the Gacko municipality and of course the citizens” – says Golubović.
How big is the pollution level in this city, the locals do not know. The metering station in the city center that was reading the data is not working for a long time.
“When the display stopped working, the management of the thermal power plant said that they did not have the obligation to provide the public with an insight into the level of pollution. Since then, we have no information about this” – says Milanka Kovačević.
All these problems are familiar to everybody. Golubović indicates that especially to the people in charge of the thermal power plant and the municipality of Gacko.
“Everyone knows about it and we can no longer talk about some environmental incidents, we are talking about ecological crimes. Therefore, they all participate in ecological criminality and make criminal offenses absolutely consciously. If this would ever be investigated, the question of intentions will not be posed. They knowingly do what they are doing now” – concluded Slobodan Golubović.
Profitable for the Government and the Chinese
“The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of the entities, look at the production of electricity from coal as something that is good and that provides a good income. However, when you look at economic data, let’s say Ugljevik thermal power plant and Gacko thermal power plant, then you can notice that in the last 10 years they mostly made losses. This is the consequence of two things: First, they are both technologically and economically out of date, and the second thing is that there is a very strong competition in the electricity market” – said Damir Miljević, an economic analyst.
Nevertheless, in December 2017, representatives of Chinese companies and representatives of the Republic Srpska signed an agreement for the construction of the new thermal power plant Gacko 2. In a situation where coal-fired plants only make losses, to whom the new plant is profitable?
“First of all, it is profitable to the owners of the thermal power plant, in this case, the Government of the RS, as the state companies are used for party employment. And of course its profitable to those who will fund this building. Nobody but China is no longer willing to finance the production of electricity from coal, as all international financial organizations have long given up on funding. That is the reason why at the moment in the region negotiations about the construction of new thermal power plants or the revitalization of existing ones are mainly held with Chinese investors” – Miljević explained.
”Let it smoke, it will be great for everyone”
Because of insisting that the thermal power plant keeps on working, the negative effects of its work are completely ignored.
“Instead of asking for the better, we quietly whisper hoping it will not be worse and let it remain this way. People get satisfied with salaries or some promises. Nobody will critically talk about the environmental disaster in which we live, because everyone counts on his child or wife to get some kind of work somehow” – says Milanka Kovačević.
Slobodan Golubović agrees with her: “As far as citizens are concerned, it’s on the level ‘let it smoke, it will be great for everyone’. It is mostly like that. Only when major incidents happen there are some spontaneous reactions, like contacting the thermal power plant, announcements in the media and similar. However, having this combined silence from the people responsible for thermopower plant, for the Gacko municipality, and, of course, the citizens, nothing can be done anymore.”
That there are still solutions, and that it is needed to look to the many positive examples of developed countries, considers Damir Miljević. However, as he concludes, the greater problem is that no one searches for these solutions and no one thinks in moving away from what is currently being done.