Air pollution remains a threat to the health of the population in Kosovo

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, next to climate change. Even this winter, despite the high temperatures, many people expressed health concerns from the poor air quality.
This winter, Sadat Morina also parked his truck full of coal on the side of the road at the place known as “Llapi Church” in Pristina.

Unlike last year, when he had to be careful not to be fined by the inspectors, this winter the merchant was not worried.

The global energy crisis caused after the Russian attack on Ukraine had also affected Kosovo a lot.

State bodies were not interested in enforcing the law by fining coal traders, as otherwise citizens would also use electricity for heating.

The Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK), based on the measures undertaken by the Government to mitigate the energy crisis during this winter, resumed the process of selling coal to citizens and businesses.

But for coal merchants like Sadati, this was a good opportunity to sell as much of this product as Kosovars use for heating during the cold winter months.

The production of energy from lignite, namely coal-fired power plants, are among the main sources of air pollutants in Kosovo.

In the winter season, the cities of Kosovo are immersed in smog which can be seen and felt everywhere.

During the winter, especially in the capital, air pollution is greatly helped by the use of coal for heating.

From the regional initiative that focuses on the protection of the environment, the “Balkan Green Foundation”, told Telegrafi that many European countries and Kosovo during this winter took measures that do not coincide with their long-term goals related to the protection of the environment or the transition energy.

“Poland, Bulgaria, but also Germany, which is known as a leader in the energy transition, which, in order to replace the gas coming from Russia, decided to restore the coal power plants to work. In the same spirit, Kosovo, since during the winter it does not have the capacity to cover the increase in demand and knowing that a good part of the citizens use electricity for heating, they decide to allow the sale of coal to citizens and businesses”, it is stated in the answer of the Balkan Green Foundation.

This initiative says that the need for affordable heating in Europe but also in Kosovo is causing the air quality to deteriorate and thus threaten the health of citizens.

“To reduce energy costs, the government may feel under pressure to relax environmental regulations. Unfortunately, these hasty and dangerous energy policies endanger the health of citizens by increasing exposure to deadly pollutants and worsening the state of the environment in general.”

However, the Balkan Green Foundation says that considering that this winter was characterized by higher temperatures than usual, then “this was a factor that influenced the smaller use of heating resources, including coal, and as a result the effect of pollution was more lower than expected”.

“Another reason [for the lower pollution than forecast] is that since the use of coal was prohibited for a long time, some citizens have only replaced the devices for burning it”, the initiative “Balkan Green Foundation” further states “.

University professor, ecologist Zeqir Veselaj tells the Telegraph that the usual causes of pollution are KEK, last quality derivatives that come to Kosovo, old cars that burn these derivatives on narrow and damaged roads, chaotic urbanism, garbage and burning them in the open, etc.

Speaking about the effect of the energy crisis on air pollution, Veseli says that even heating with electricity has negative effects on air quality.

“Even if we do not heat with wood, coal or pellets and we heat with energy, we must know that that energy comes from burning coal. Therefore, by saving energy, we save additional pollution”, stated Veselaj.

University professor, ecologist Zeqir Veselaj
Veselaj says that he does not expect improvements to the environmental issue until this is taken more seriously by state institutions.

“In fact, the environment has never been treated well, nor has it been treated as a problem”, declared Veselaj.

The risk of air pollution caused by small air particles and long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with a series of adverse health effects.

Plumologist Flamur Marku tells Telegraph that 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.

Pulmologist Flag Marku
According to him, every year there are more patients who seek health services as a result of complications from a

This is evidenced by the data from air quality monitoring by the national network in Kosovo, published in the report “Air Quality in Europe 2022” by the European Environment Agency.

The agency announces that only during the year 2022, 20 thousand tons of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), about 23 thousand tons of Nitrogen Oxide (NO2) and about 6 thousand tons of total dust have been emitted from Kosovo’s thermal power plants.

However, the high temperatures that have prevailed during this winter have reduced the need for citizens to spend resources for heating, slightly reducing the level of air pollution.

During the past years, in the winter season, the air quality, especially in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, reached an alarming level, exceeding all recommended standards.

According to the then data of the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Embassy, the values of PM 2.5 were above the allowed values.

On a February day in 2021, the IQ air site for global air quality measurement ranked Pristina several times with the most polluted air in the world.

In 2020, the pollution peak had a concentration of 367.2 µg/m³ of PM10, concentrations of 234.5 µg/m³ of PM2.5, concentrations of 206.5 µg/m³ of NO2 and SO2 levels of 294.8 µg/m³.

For the degradation of the living environment, Kosovo was also criticized by international mechanisms.

In the reports of these mechanisms, Kosovo was ranked at the lowest level of environmental standards in the Western Balkans and in Europe.

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.

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.

But at the beginning of this winter, the Minister of Economy, Artane Rizvanolli, canceled this decision, so that workers can be helped to overcome the crisis.

This article was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Kosovo through the Climate Promise Project funded by the Government of Japan. Its contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNDP or the Government of Japan.