As winter in Kosovo approaches, so does the increase in air pollution across the country. In lieu of explicit preventive measures to combat pollution, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning is focusing its efforts on more effective monitoring of air quality levels.
Prishtina and many other cities across Kosovo experienced high levels of visible air pollution on Tuesday, with the worst recorded in Malisheva, Obiliq, Vushtrri, Kacanik and Gjakova.
Switzerland-based organization AirVisual has the largest global database of air quality data city by city, and since 2015 has compiled and visualized the data gathered in Kosovo.
At 09.30 on Tuesday, AirVisual showed Prishtina’s PM2.5 level, which refers to the concentration of particulate matter at the size of 2.5 micrograms (µg) – the most dangerous for people to breathe – was 57.4 µg/m³. Healthy concentrations of particulate matter range from between 1 and 35 µg/m³.
The highest levels at 09:30 on Tuesday morning were recorded in the Municipality of Malisheva, which was pinpointed by AirVisual as “very unhealthy,” with concentrations of particulate matter reaching 182 µg/m³. Obiliq, the location of Kosovo’s coal-fired thermal power plants, also peaked as one of the most polluted areas of the country on Tuesday.
Prishtina was listed as one of the cities suffering from the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday morning, ranking as the fourth most polluted at 11:00. Prishtina was joined in the top 10 by Sarajevo, Skopje and Belgrade, all of which are experiencing “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” concentrations of particulate matter.
To mitigate the effects of the dangerous levels of air pollution, the AirVisual website recommends restricting exercise outside, keeping windows closed, wearing a mask and using an air purifier.
The outgoing Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning, Fatmir Matoshi, has taken measures to raise awareness of the levels of air pollution in Prishtina by introducing screens across the city center that inform the public in real time on the levels of air quality across the country.
“This is another commitment of ours to raise citizens’ awareness about the importance of clean air and to continue to inform citizens in real time about the situation in our capital,” said Matoshi at the unveiling of the screens on Friday.
The screens use AirVisual’s six-marker scale of danger concerning the levels of air pollution, from “healthy” to “hazardous,” known as the AQI, or Air Quality Index. This index simplifies the calculation of PM2.5 concentration using an index that ranges from 0-500, and any city whose PM2.5 levels surpass 300 is considered “hazardous.”
The monitoring screens are part of a larger project costing four million euros, which also aims to equip Kosovo’s Hydro-Meteorological Institute with more advanced measuring instruments and train officials from the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning about air pollution.
The first alarming levels of air pollution in the last 12 months were recorded in Prishtina in December 2018, peaking at 456 on the AQI, or “hazardous” levels. Similar levels were recorded in January 2019, with visible air pollution lasting well into April.
Earlier this year, BIRN published a series of infographics explaining the main causes of deteriorating air quality across the country and suggesting preventive and protective measures to be taken to stop the exacerbation of damage to people’s health.
Experts have attributed the air pollution in Kosovo primarily to the coal-based thermal power plants outside Prishtina, domestic coal and wood-based heating, fumes from car exhausts and high levels of traffic, as well as ‘temperature inversion,’ the creation of air channels at the ground level in Prishtina where harmful fumes and emissions become trapped. This is exacerbated by the lack of horizontal or vertical air channels that would normally carry this pollution away.
Some preventive measures have been employed by the Municipality of Prishtina in the last few years, including banning the use of coal by public institutions in Prishtina and also temporary traffic bans across the center of the capital. However, long term measures such as halting the operation of the power plants Kosova A and Kosova B – which are outdated and emitting harmful pollutants just 12 kilometers outside the capital – have not been undertaken.
Kosovo’s incoming government, expected to be led by Vetevendosje and its head, Albin Kurti, explicitly stated that the party does not intend to stop the operation of these power plants. Rather, Vetevendosje plans to invest in revitalizing the old power plants to reduce pollution.
Both Kurti and prospective coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, promised to stop the contract to build a new power plant, Kosova e Re, finalized in December 2017 between the government of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and company ContourGlobal.
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