More and more Czechs gasping for air

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In spite of all its beauty, the Czech Republic seems to be turning into a rather unpleasant place to live - at least in some respects. Two-thirds of Czechs are currently gasping for air as it gets more and more polluted. This and many other alarming facts have been highlighted in an annual report on the Czech environment, published recently by the Environment Ministry.

According to the government report on the environment, the Czech Republic is lagging behind other European countries in a number of key areas. One of the most disturbing finds is that sixty-two percent of Czechs currently breathe air containing excess levels of soft dust particles. As a result, the number of children suffering from allergies has almost doubled in the past eleven years. Jiri Hradec of the Czech Environmental Information Agency outlines the main problems addressed in this year's survey.

"We are experiencing big problems with quality of air, especially with particle matters. We are not able to stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. We have more and more trucks on the roads. There is more and more transportation on the streets. The energetic demand of our industry is ever increasing. And we still have problems with waste management in the communities."

Whereas in the past the problem of air pollution was limited to towns, now it also affects the countryside, especially the forests.

"Prague and Ostrava are the worst hit cities in the Czech Republic. This is caused by two reasons. The first one is the heavy industry in the Ostrava region and the other one is heavy transportation in Prague. If you happen to go to Moravia, especially to the northern part, where there is the city of Ostrava, you can even touch and smell the particle matters, the dust in the air. This is really heavily affected area."

According to environmental specialists, a more targeted approach is needed. One of the problems that should be tackled first is transportation. Among other things, they would like to introduce stricter technical controls and road taxes giving preferential treatment to cars using cleaner types of fuel. Despite the bleak data, Jiri Hradec says people can do a lot on a daily basis, such as using public transport instead of cars and switching from coal burning to gas heating. There is also at least some good news: at the very least, most Czechs care more about the environment than they used to.

"Just consider the number of companies who are being certified for EMAS, which stands for environmental management system and how many people are willing to behave in the environmentally positive manner. Even though we still see huge retails providing people with plastic bags, certain ones have decided not to. So there are many things that can be done. It's always up to people. Just be vigilant and look around you. This is what counts."