Minister of Environment Albena Reshitaj and Minister of Economy Valdrin Lluka promised to tackle Kosovo’s air pollution problem at a panel hosted by Jeta ne Kosove.
Last winter, air pollution in Prishtina broke record highs, at times reaching hazardous levels, forcing the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning to issue warnings for sensitive groups to stay inside. And beyond these staggering pollution peaks, the annual air quality average revealed a significant threat to public health in the capital.
As families and businesses began turning on the heat this winter, Kosovo citizens continued to be concerned with pollution’s threat to public health.
Last week, Kosovo’s ministers of Environment and Spatial Planning and Economy said they will tackle pollution at a panel hosted by BIRN Kosovo’s television programme Jeta ne Kosove. Among other promises, they told moderator Jeta Xharra that they will stop the use of coal-fired heating in kindergartens and implement energy efficiency measures in each of Kosovo’s municipalities.
Experts Haki Abazi, from the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development, KOSID, and Antigona Ukehaxhaj, from the National Institute for Public Health, raised further concerns at the panel discussion.
Ukehaxhaj said that according to research by the public health institute, from August to January 2016, there was a significant increase in the number of children (ages zero-15) admitted to pediatric clinics for respiratory illnesses.
“During the time we were collecting data, we saw two children sharing single beds in the lung department of pediatric clinics,” she said, adding that the institute had several meetings with municipal mayors, including Prishtina Mayor Shpend Ahmeti, but they failed to take action.
Abazi said that fossil fuels are the biggest polluter in Kosovo, emphasizing that harmful emissions are released by the burning of fuel. He added that the previous Kosovo government decided that quality inspection of fuel should done foreign companies. He recommended tougher fuel inspection, conducted in Kosovo.
“With full transparency we could bring fuel pollution to a minimum, or bring it to EU standards,” Abazi said.
He also argued that there should be stricter regulations and inspections for the Kosovo Energy Corporation, KEK, especially regarding filters in the Kosovo B power plant, which he claims are turned off during the night.
“If you land at the Prishtina airport during the night, the smells are unbearable, and that smoke remains there all day,” he insisted.
The Ministry of Environment is aware of the concerning data regarding pollution, emphasized Minister Albena Reshitaj.
“According to recent research, 800 people die each year in Kosovo as a result of the high level of air pollution. What is even more concerning, 1.7 million children die yearly at the global level,” she said.
Minister Reshitaj revealed that there are two hundred schools with coal-fired heating systems in Kosovo, and pledged to take action to replace coal with other materials.
Minister of Economy Valdrin Lluka focused on energy efficient buildings, promising that by March 2018, five public facilities will replace coal with wood pellets and 12 other buildings will be transformed into energy efficient facilities.
He also promised to focus on energy efficiency in every single municipality through the Municipal Plans for Energy Efficiency, but condemned local governments for not focusing enough on the issue themselves.
“These measures have been somewhat forgotten, [mayors] left them in their drawers, so I will make sure that each municipality signs them. With these measures we will undertake joint obligations,” he said.
Economy Minister Lluka’s promises
- 12 buildings in Prishtina will be transformed into energy efficient buildings within the next six months, and 20 other buildings in the capital will go through this transformation in 12 months time.
- The draft law on energy efficiency will be passed in the Assembly within six months.
- The Plan for Energy Efficiency Measures will be signed by each municipality within the next six months. He promised that he will go to each municipality himself to make sure that mayors sign on.
- The ministry will conduct an investigation into the illegal excavation of coal, which leads to illegal coal trading, and will enforce measures against illegal excavators.
- As chair of the interministerial Commision for Public Enterprises, he will make sure that a decision to halt KEK’s donations of eight tons of coal per year to its workers will pass.
- Gjakova will replace oil heating with biomass heating by next winter.
- Increase the number of civil servants in the Agency for Energy Efficiency to 20 to 25. There are currently only three employees at the agency.
- Create a separate fund for energy efficiency by September 2018.
Environment Minister Reshitaj’s promises
- Include hybrid vehicles in the ministry’s 2018 budget.
- Demand that all newly-elected mayors come up with a deadline to publish their zonal maps upon taking office. Reshitaj promised a joint meeting with all mayors.
- Pass a bill in the Assembly to ban coal for small businesses and families and offer alternative energy sources.
- Use wood confiscated by the Agency of Forestry to provide alternative heating for ‘big polluters’ like Prishtina, Fushe Kosova, Obiliq, Mitrovica, and Drenas.