Noise pollution is a growing problem across Europe and one which many people may not be aware of the impacts. To improve the well-being and quality of life of our citizens, we need to reduce noise pollution and raise awareness about this topic. That’s why noise is one of the key priorities of the BiH ESAP 2030+ project, and why we decided to highlight it in this story.

Melina Džajić-Valjevac, M.Sc., and  Borislav Malinović, Ph.D., both experts working on the topic of noise in the project, explain how noise impacts our daily lives and how the new BiH Environmental Strategy and Action Plan sets out to improve the situation.

Traffic noise

What do we mean with environmental noise, and what are the sources of environmental noise?

According to the European Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise, ‘environmental noise’ means unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise emitted by means of transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, and from sites of industrial activity.

How do people and communities get affected by environmental noise? What are the possible impacts?

People are exposed to noise on a daily basis, while they stay in their homes, at work, during their walks and other outdoor activities. According to the 2011 report of the World Health Organisation, noise emitted by means of transport is the second major cause of environmental health problems, after air pollution. In 2020, the European Environment Agency issued a report, Environmental noise in Europe – 2020, which summarises overall previous knowledge on the noise exposure of the population and its effects on their health. According to this report, a prolonged exposure to noise can have several health impacts, including annoyance, sleep disturbance, adverse effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems, as well as cognitive damages in children. Environmental noise is one of the causes of 48,000 new cases of heart ischemic disease annually, as well as of 12,000 premature death in Europe. In addition, 22 million people are estimated to be exposed to high chronical annoyance, while 6.5 million persons suffer from severe chronic sleep disturbance. Furthermore, the same study assessed that 12,500 school children face reading problems as a result of air traffic noise. This report did not cover the situation in BiH, due to the lack of data.

What is a noise map and why do we need that?

Without noise mapping, it is not possible to manage this problem, and reduce the health risk to the population. A noise map shows data on the current and forecasted noise situation through noise indicators. It also identifies if relevant defined limit values are being exceeded, how many people are affected by noise, as well as how many housing units are exposed to certain values of noise indicators, in any specific area. There are also more strategic noise maps, that aim to provide a complete assessment of noise exposure from different sources in a given area and comprehensive forecasts for such areas.

Noise maps are necessary in order to identify areas with high levels of noise, assess the scale of impact on the population, and to define preventive measures or suitable infrastructure. All of this will reduce the health impact on the people affected. Development of noise maps is accompanied with development of action plans.

There is a continued increase of urbanisation and a growing need for mobility, which increases the risk of noise exposure on the population. Problems linked with noise cannot be assessed and addressed properly if we do not develop noise maps for agglomerations, roads, airports, railways, and action plans required in the Directive.

Sarajevo Tram

How could we improve the situation regarding noise in BiH? What practical steps can we take to reduce the amount of noise? Is there anything a resident in an area exposed to environmental noise can do about it?

The impact of noise on the health of the population in BiH has been disregarded, which is best demonstrated by the lack of legislation aligned with EU regulations, as well as lack of research or statistics which could help in assessing noise exposure of the population. This impact, while it’s considered to be the second major reason of environmental health problems in Europe, it has yet to be covered by the strategic planning documents in regards to environmental protection in BiH, or by special planning documents.

It is necessary to first develop a legal framework across the level of government to enable development of strategic noise maps and action plans, and better planning with respect to protection from impacts of noise.

Some measures to reduce noise in EU countries include: low noise asphalt pavements, use of more silent tires and motors in public transport vehicles, expansion of electric car infrastructure in towns, improved organisation of traffic aimed at reducing traffic jams, sound absorbing facades and windows on buildings, promotion of biking, declaring busy streets no traffic zones, etc. In addition, the action plans also protect so-called “silent areas” where people can escape from urban noise. These are mainly green spaces such as parks or nature reserves.

When it comes to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they should be informed of health risks of noise , particularly the most vulnerable groups of the population such as children and elderly. When citizens participate in public hearings in the environmental permitting processes for construction of roads, airports and railways, as well as industrial facilities, they are able to request further information about the noise risk, and to demand more protective measures and public information on noise levels. When homes are built in areas exposed to noise, citizens need to use facade material and windows which will provide a noise free home for their family, especially during the night. Citizens are also recommended to spend more time in silent areas, and finally, everyone needs to be aware that they are likele to generate noise through their activities which may affect health of the population in the community.

What would an implemented environmental strategy and action plan mean in our efforts to combat this environmental problem? 

For the first time BiH ESAP 2030+ includes noise management in the environmental strategic planning at all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Strategy and Action Plan envisage drafting of the legislation which will allow for development of noise maps and strategic noise maps, noise action plans and noise monitoring. When this legislation is adopted it should come hand in hand with public participation around decision-making processes. This will ultimately result in better management in reducing noise exposure of the population and improve quality of life in the long-term.

More about the BiH ESAP 2030+

The primary goal of the BiH ESAP2030+ project is to support the authorities of BiH, FBiH, RS and BD in the ESAP 2030+ development. The ESAP document will comprise environmental strategies and action plans for FBiH, RS and BD, and actions that will be taken at the level of BiH. On a long-term basis, the project will improve the environment in BiH and support BiH on its path to EU membership.

The contents of the BiH ESAP will address the following seven areas of the Environmental Acquis: Water; Waste; Biodiversity and Nature Conservation; Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy, Chemical Safety and Noise; Sustainable Resource Management; and Environmental Management.

The BiH ESAP Project is implemented by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) with the financial support of the Embassy of Sweden in BiH.

The interview was initially published on the portal on April 28, 2021.