Anger, emergency measures in smog-stifled Balkan cities

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A man walks on the banks of Danube river in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. Serbia's government on Wednesday called an emergency meeting, as many cities throughout the Balkans have been hit by dangerous levels of air pollution in recent days, prompting residents' anger and government warnings to stay indoors and avoid physical activity.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE – Major cities in a series of Balkan countries have been hit by dangerous levels of smog in recent days, prompting anger among residents and official warnings to stay indoors and avoid physical activity.

Serbia's government called an urgent meeting to address the problem Wednesday, shortly after a peak in weekend air pollution levels prompted emergency measures in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo.

A report last year by the U.N. Environment Program said Sarajevo has some of Europe's highest air pollution concentrations, while on average people living in the Western Balkans lose up to 1.3 years of life to air pollution.

Croatian police on Wednesday also urged citizens in the capital, Zagreb, to use public transport and avoid bikes or scooters.

High concentrations of toxic air particles are typical during winter in Balkan countries that largely depend on coal-fueled power plants, and where people drive old cars and use wood and coal for heating. In recent days, windless weather conditions and thick fog have exacerbated the problem.

While dozens of towns and cities throughout the region are suffering, the worst hit has been Sarajevo, built in a deep valley ringed by mountains.

For most of the past week, Sarajevo's levels of airborne PM10 particulate matter have been at least twice — and sometimes eight times — higher than the European Union safety limit.

The soaring pollution has angeredenvironmental activists in both Bosnia and Serbia, who say authorities are doing too little too late.