Another winter with polluted air

As the winter season approaches, the citizens of Pristina will face high air pollution again this year. The Kosovar capital has often been listed in the list of countries with the most polluted air in the world over the past years.
The biggest polluter is the Kosovo Energy Corporation that supplies the entire state with electricity, which is produced from coal and is located a few kilometers from Pristina.

The situation worsens even more in the situation where the energy crisis has become one of the biggest problems. With high prices, citizens are forced to provide heating by burning coal, wood and other materials, which contribute to the reduction of air quality.

Emin Islami, 58 years old who lives in Pristina, says that during the winter season he is obliged to move to the village, otherwise he says that he ends up in the hospital as a result of a chronic illness from which he suffers.

“The air is very dirty in Pristina, especially in the winter season. We have Obiliq nearby, cars, coal. I am chronically ill myself. Personally, I go to the village of Dyz, where I come from, in the winter. Only when I have to because of work, otherwise I leave because of the air, because it is unbearable and I end up in the hospital”, he says to Radio Free Europe.

Islam calls on institutions to find solutions so that this situation does not repeat itself every year.

Besfort Kosova, from the regional initiative Balkan Green Foundation, says that the air quality is very low due to many factors, such as heating with solid materials.

It explains how the microscopic particles released from the burning of materials used for heating in Kosovo affect the health of citizens.

“These (substances), which burn in stoves, which citizens have for heating, release pollutants into the atmosphere, especially PM 2.5, PM 10. These are fine particles, which enter the internal system of the human body and cause different problems and from which it is extremely difficult to protect”, says Kosova.

Pulmonologist Flamur Marku, talking about the health complications caused by polluted air, also gives advice on individual measures that can be taken in order to reduce the damage caused by pollution.

“Those particles, the pollution that is released, create big obstacles, especially in the respiratory tract, where there is a worsening of existing diseases such as bronchitis, chronic obstructive diseases, lung diseases or even bronchial asthma”, says Marku.

He adds that in frequent cases it happens that these patients also need hospitalization to receive additional oxygen.

“It should be added here that not only the existing cases worsen, but we also have an increase in new cases, even patients at a young age show problems, especially respiratory problems”, he says.

The largest number of patients with complications caused by polluted air is in the period from the beginning of November to March, when fuels are mostly used for heating.

“Our advice to these patients is that they should avoid peak pollution, such as morning and evening hours. But, if they definitely have the movement at those times, then they should wear masks or even use the scarf for protection”, says Marku.

Until 2018, the Kosovo Energy Corporation gave coal as a gift to its workers. In 2018, the Ministry of Economic Development decided to stop giving coal as a gift to KEK workers.

Recently, the Minister of Economy, Artane Rizvanolli, has emphasized that she has repealed this decision, so that the workers can be helped in overcoming the crisis.

Among the biggest air polluters in Kosovo are vehicles, especially the older ones. Although not in frequent cases, the use of electric cars has started.

Fidan Hallaqi, who runs a business with taxi services in Pristina, operates with 20 100% electric cars. Although as a contributor to maintaining air quality, he says he is not exempt from any taxes from the state.

“Despite the initiatives we have undertaken either with the Ministry of Infrastructure or at the municipal level, there has been no support. As a company, we have covered all the expenses ourselves until the change or increase in the capacity of the transformers due to the need for filling stations with higher capacity”, says Hallaqi for Radio Free Europe.

According to Besfort Kosovo, a very important measure is raising awareness of the danger caused by low air quality and the ways in which citizens can contribute to improving this quality.

“One of the best ways would be, where possible, to use efficient equipment such as heat pumps or air conditioners, which have lower operating costs, apart from the investment for their installation.”