Learning with Every Breath Conference held in Uzice
Uzice, 26 April 2023 – UNICEF and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM), with the support of the Government of Norway, held the "Learning with Every Breath" conference in Uzice, to encourage dialogue in society about the impact of air pollution and climate change on health and welfare of children and youth.
Air pollution is linked to the onset of chronic respiratory diseases in children, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma, which can weaken the body, cause children to miss school, and even cause long-term damage to their health and welfare. UNICEF and the Government of Norway launched the innovative project "Schools for better air quality" to make children and young people in 15 local self-government units in the Drina and West Morava River basins better acquainted with air quality in their local community. In addition, the goal of the project is to encourage the creation of an enabling environment in at least three municipalities that would lead to changes in local policy, budget, and environmental protection programs, including air quality preservation, with participation of young people and prioritizing the best interests of children.
Ms. Ellen Stie, Deputy Representative, Embassy of Norway, pointed out that the most vulnerable groups exposed to air pollution are children and young people, and added that inhaling invisible toxic particles that pollute the air can affect their development, including their cognitive development.
“According to the United Nations Convention, every child has the right to breathe healthy air and to be protected from pollution. By measuring air pollution, and using the devices installed as part of the project, we can make invisible pollutants visible. This can help us understand what regulations we need and react accordingly. Aware of all these facts, with the support of our friends from UNICEF, we realized that we have to work on raising awareness about air pollution, first of all, among children, young people, teaching staff, and among all citizens. Therefore, Norway and UNICEF launched this project in 2021, and the Government of Norway allocated over 90 million dinars for financial support of the project.”
In her address, Yosi Echeverry Burchardt, UNICEF Serbia Deputy Representative, said: “Air pollution is one of the biggest health and environmental problems in the world. Globally, 93% of children under the age of 15 breathe dangerously polluted air every day. The breathing of toxins and particles kills over 600,000 children every year. This problem can lead to respiratory problems in children, can force them to miss school and affect their lives as adults. We have a lot of work ahead of us because solving the problem of air pollution is a long-term process. The Schools for Better Air Quality project is a step in the right direction as it provides schools and teachers with new approaches to environmental topics in STEM education and supports local governments to improve policies and actions related to air pollution. Also, within the project, young people are improving their knowledge and skills for their participation in decision-making through work with mentors, workshops and networking with youth activists in the country and the world.”
The Deputy Mayor of Uzice, Dragoljub Stojadinovic, speaking about the project's contribution to the city's efforts to enable its citizens, including young people and children, to breathe cleaner air, pointed out: “At one point, our city was at the very top of the list of the most polluted cities in Serbia, but thanks to the huge efforts and financial resources, we record fewer and fewer days with high pollution from year to year. Of course, in addition to all the measures that we undertake as local self-government following short-term and long-term plans, we have significant support from relevant ministries and partners from the European Union. Thanks to the equipment received during the project in three of our schools - devices for measuring the concentration of air quality - we will have a clear picture of which locations have the highest pollution and what is the impact of local polluters on the air quality. Also, an important segment refers to education, which is implemented with the support of the Youth Office of the city of Uzice.”
“Our today’s host, the city of Uzice, along with Priboj and Loznica, are three local governments that through the Project receive direct technical support for the development of public policy documents aimed at improving air quality, environmental and health protection. Through consultative meetings with young people and representatives of LSGs, we tried to point out the importance of youth participation and their contribution in the process of adopting public policies,” said Miodrag Gluscevic, Programme Director for Sector for Urban Development, Environment and Communal Services of the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM). He added that the towns and municipalities have expressed their willingness to support the participation of young people in the processes of creation of public policies, and that the experiences of SCTM from the field show good results, because in addition to the aforementioned participation in the consultation process, young people acquire concrete knowledge about air quality issues and the skills needed for engaging in dialogue with public authorities, such as critical thinking, clear formulation of positions and reaching agreement through consensus.
UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Youth and partner organizations, in the past year and a half, held direct consultations on air quality in Serbia with 900 young people gathered around the "Youth4Air" initiative in twenty cities in Serbia, with the aim of creating authentic recommendations to policymakers. The result of that process is the First Youth Declaration on Air Quality in Serbia, which was presented today in Uzice.
Also, as part of the project, economical devices for measuring air quality were installed and sets of teaching aids donated in 46 schools in 15 local self-government units. So far over 13,000 school children and 350 teachers have participated in the implementation of school projects on air pollution and environmental protection with the help of these aids, within the STEM subjects. Three interdisciplinary online courses based on official teaching and learning programs were created for primary and secondary school students, and teachers had the opportunity to exchange inspiring examples from practice.
After the meeting, the participants will visit the UNICEF Science Fair at the Slobodan Sekulic Primary School, where they will learn about the projects implemented in this school.
Prisutni smo u više od 190 zemalja i teritorija, a kroz sve što radimo promovišemo prava i dobrobit dece, posebno one koja su najugroženija i isključena. U potpunosti se finansiramo od dobrovoljnih priloga pojedinaca, država i vlada, fondacija i kompanija.