Ostrava: Hooked on Steel

Ostrava: Hooked on Steel

Text and Photography: Simon Hipkins
Clients: MediaDiversity Institute / Europa Magazine

For over two hundred years, steel production has been key to life in Ostrava. In the last two decades the city has undergone massive de-industrialisation but has struggled to develop an economic alternative that will provide for its population. As a result thousands have left in search of work; those who remain have become dependent on the largest remaining steel plant now owned by the multinational company, ArcelorMittal.

The ArcelorMittal steel plant covers an area 10 kilometres square and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In the neighbourhoods closest to the plant harmful emissions frequently exceed maximum EU health regulations by as much as 60 times. The heath impact is huge with 38% of children under the age of six suffering from an acute form of asthma and local residents frequently exposed to high levels of carcinogenic pollutants.

Despite this apparent breach of European Union law, local and national politicians are reluctant to hold ArcelorMittal to account and the company continues to receive generous emission certificates and tax breaks as an incentive to stay in the country.

Ostrava’s population are split; whilst some campaign against the actions of the company; others, who depend on it for their livelihoods, come to its defence.

Grateful thanks to the following people who contributed their time, patience and presence to the telling of this story:

Dominic Hipkins, Dr. Peter Jancik, Dr. Eva Schallerova, Jolana Šmarhovyová, Sri Kumar Viswanathan, The Burda family, The Gasporova family, The Rasik family, The Slipek family, The Roma communities of Kunčice, Radvanice and Zárubek.

Watch a slideshow of the images with music and sound design from our composer, David McAulay.