Author: Milanka Kovačević, Direkt portal za Centar za životnu sredinu
Just a few kilometres from Gacko towards Nevesinje, there is the village of Rudo Polje. 500m divides it from the edge of the coal mine and the power plant. Even though the pit is spreading towards the town and affecting more and more people, Coal mine and Thermal Power plant Gacko (RiTE) has done nothing in the last few years to recultivate the mine area. Environment conservation measures are just an additional cost for this company, as we stated in the previous article. Also, from this we can see their indifference toward the health of the citizens.
In Rudo Polje itself, the pollution isn’t the same in every location. Houses that are directly in the path of the most often winds are in the worst position. And when they blow, they bring dust from the power plant chimney.
Wipe the dust and keep quiet
For the last three and a half decades, ever since the plant is active, not a single study has been done to assess the level of pollution, and even more importantly, monitor its effect on human health. In reality, conservation measures and recultivation of devastated areas are just an unnecessary expense for RiTE Gacko.
On the field, every family has some experience with cancer. Today, only two families are left – Vidojević and Davidović. They preferred not to speak publicly about their situations.
,,What can I do, I have to try and employ my child in the power plant. I don’t want to complicate the situation and anger someone. Tomorrow they will say how I’m speaking out against the power plant while trying to find a job for my child” said one of the locals.
,,My father died of cancer, but my mother survived it, she’ll probably be ok” said a young man. He says that he has his own reasons not to stand in front of the camera. ,,I really don’t know if the power plant is the cause of the diseases, but I’m sure society should have taken care of that. We don’t worry about preventing, we usually fight against the consequences” he said.
Nonetheless, traces of pollution are still visible. Roof tiles have changed colour because of the dust. Brides that came to live in the village were surprised by the scene – white houses and white tiles. Only the snow is grey from the ash.
,,It’s always easier to view something from the side, we have been fighting with dust for years. We wash our cars with vinegar because it’s the only way to take off the layer of ash. People in Gacko will see soon enough, when the dust from the mine settles on their houses, how it is when you can’t dry your clothes or when you wash your windows one day, but they’re already covered in dust the next day” he described their everyday life under the chimney of the Thermal power plant Gacko.
They’re staying for emotional reasons
Too makes matters worse, the citizens have water restrictions that begin in July and can last until the end of November. In spite of that, everyone has their reasons to stay in this place.
,,It’s not easy to move away, we are only three kilometres from the town, now we even have asphalt. When they paid up according to article 9 (RiTE compensated owners of the expropriated land), inflation already hit, so for that money I couldn’t afford to start a life somewhere else. I couldn’t get even 50.00 KM“said this local about his experience.
,,My father’s house is here, that’s where we grew up. I’m staying here for emotional reasons. I want to live here, but I don’t know what the future brings. If we don’t find any jobs, I really don’t know” said another.
In spite of the pollution, young people see their future with RiTE Gacko.
When they made the power plant, they said that young locals from the most endangered area will be a priority during employment. Unfortunately, those were just empty promises. Nonetheless, I think life would be a lot more difficult without the power plant” he said.
We tend to our gardens, and also have fruit. It’s covered with dust but we wash and use it. I would like if someone would care more about the dust and pollution. In the end, health is most important. Anyway, today the situation is a lot better, there used to be a lot more dust before” he added.
We are sacrificing our health for work
Data from the community Health centre states that there are 55 new registered cases of cancer. For a small municipality, that’s a large number, especially if we have in mind that, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) data from 2012, Denmark was at the top of the list with 338.1 patients out of 100.000 citizens. According to those numbers, on one thousand people there are 3.3 sick Danes. On the other side, we have 6.9 sick Gacko citizens out of a thousand.
Comparing to last year, when there were 31 new cases of cancer, in 2019 we have a significant rise in diagnosed cases.
Health workers agree that we are sacrificing our health for work, and they also see a problem in the fact that no screening tests are done. When it comes to RiTE employees, only a group of workers have full body checkups, not all of them.
That is also one of the reasons that, even though countries from the region are in middle of the list of diagnosed patients, we are at the top of the cancer mortality list. That’s because people approach their doctor too late, treatment isn’t available to all, and the environment is polluted.
We have requested a competent respondent who would inform the public about the effect this company has on the environment and what preventive measures it is taking. We still haven’t got an answer.
Note: This article is part of a series written in cooperation of the Centre for Environment and portal Direkt. The series connects investigating journalism with the work of the Centre for Environment, on transforming the electro energetic system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the cooperation of many partner organisations from the West Balkans, Europe and the world. The articles are one of the many contributions of the “Stop dirty energy campaign, because the future is renewable”, which has the goal of raising awareness of the public, experts, government institutions and other social circles, of the concerning state of our environment and unsustainable existing energy systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The opinions and demands of this campaign towards the institutions in B&H:
*We expect institutions to finally begin to honour their international obligations in the fields of energy and environment preservation.
*We are requesting that, in economic assessments of future energy production projects, the true prices of using energy resources are displayed (including the damage done to the citizens health as well as the environment) while deciding on new projects.
*To cease all plans on constructing new thermal power plants, but turn to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, abiding the principles of fair transition.