High noise levels bane of modern urban life

In Central Europe increasing numbers of people are moving from the country to the city. Like much of the rest of the world - societies here are becoming more urbanised and the problem of noise pollution more acute. The Czech capital Prague is unusual, in that one of the country's main transport arteries cuts right through the centre of the city. But what effect does the noise caused by the huge volume of traffic have on people who live there? Radio Prague's Ian Willoughby reports.

I'm standing on the Magistrala, a road which cuts right through the top of Wenceslas Square in the heart of the Czech capital. It was built by the Communists in the 1970s. Now an amazing 100,000 vehicles pass through the Magistrala every day. It is one reason Prague is the noisiest city in the Czech Republic. One study found 60 percent of the city's citizens said they suffered from high noise levels. Here are the opinions of some Prague residents.

Woman: "I think it reflects our age. If that's the way politicians want it, that's the way it is. It definitely shouldn't be like this, because it's clearly bad for your health. I work on this street myself - maybe I'll have health problems in the future."

Second woman: "Of course I don't like it one bit. I live in the suburbs but I'm here in the centre quite often. What they really should do is build a ring road around the city."

"The noise which occurs in towns and cities has the same effects as any other kind of stress. That means an increase in 'civilisation diseases'. They include high blood pressure, hypertension, heart attacks, thyroid gland problems or even a decrease in immunity."

Says Dr Petr Sisman, an expert on noise pollution at the Czech State Health Institute. He says it is hard to fight the problem in modern cities. But there are certain things that the authorities can do.

"Towns and cities - or the state - can fight this problem in a number of ways. They can build ring roads, so traffic doesn't have to go through the city. They can ensure that speed limits are observed and that vehicles have passed technical tests. Drivers need to be encouraged to behave responsibly and not drive noisily, so as to keep noise levels down."

As for noise problems particular to the Czech capital, Dr Sisman says there are geographical and historical factors which somewhat tie the hands of the municipal authorities.

"A lot depends of course on how much the city puts into anti-noise measures. Things are a bit complicated in Prague, because it's a hilly city with old, relatively narrow streets and that can't be changed. And that makes it harder to build by-passes."

On top of that, city officials say they just don't have the funding to do more to deal with noise pollution. It seems locals will just have to get used to the constant din.