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Macedonia’s Tetovo and Skopje lay unenviable claim to being the continent’s two most polluted cities in 2018 – holding air pollution indexes of 95.57 and 83.53.
The annual average of PM2.5 concentrations, particles that cause hazy air and contribute to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stroke and cancer, in Skopje frequently go three times higher than the limits set in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency. Research drawn from the European Air Quality Index and Berkeley Earth’s real time air quality map also illustrate this bleak picture.
Public health institutions have issued warnings as roughly 1500 people in Macedonia die a year because of air pollution. In the period 2015-2016, there were 1469 air-pollution related deaths. Pollution is so rampant that many Macedonians – particularly in Skopje and Tetovo, are buying air purifiers for their homes. On average an air purifier costs around 400 euros, which is close to the average monthly salary.
Amid this, Gorjan Jovanovski – a Macedonian software engineer, created an air monitoring app in 2014 called MojVozduh (MyAir), which draws directly from public data around Macedonia.
‘It started as a web page at first, to see if there was interest with people,’ Gorjan says, ‘Then I moved it to an app format because it is the easiest way for people to get information. No other platform can provide a place to share this information in an automated, clear and understandable way, so I had to make my own.’
As well as users accessing the webpage, MojVozduh has been downloaded on Android and iOS by near 100,000 users – an astonishing feat for a country of 2 million.The app uses data sources from over 40 measuring stations around Macedonia that users can check – a mix of Government and University Goce Delchev stations, as well as volunteers from the Pulse project.
‘But we also use satellite data from the European Space Agency to try and see pollution from the sky which is only available on the Android version for now,’ Gorjan adds.
‘People did not believe that it was very polluted. They knew it wasn’t the best, but at certain times it was going 20 times over the EU limit,’.
During the winter the problem is compounded: coal power stations ramp up production, and wood and coal stoves burn in homes across the country. Even the geography intensifies the problem, as Gorjan explains, ‘The mountains contribute to temperature inversion where hot air from heating goes up and cold air goes down. They push on each other and create a lid over Skopje, trapping the pollution inside.’
There has been growing discontent with the Macedonian government over pollution. Many demonstrations have taken place in the last few years. Recently, protestors in Skopje city centre displayed placards reading: “Four die daily waiting for clean air” and “It’s time for clean air”. The protests and discontent have likely been fuelled by an increase in the accessibility of information.
The Macedonian government has pledged to fight air pollution – aiming to halve Skopje pollution in just two years, with similar reductions across the country. The plan includes new air pollution monitoring stations, a reduction in VAT tax and subsidies to encourage households to use central heating instead of wood. However, despite the pledge for a subsidy, central heating is terribly costly compared to wood-burning stoves- it is unlikely Macedonians will be changing in a haste.
But, many Eastern European economies, like Macedonia, are dominated by mining and construction, which came with the communist era infrastructure where the use of coal and wood was leading. The Environment Minister Jani Makraduli said: ‘The swift adoption of the new law on industrial emissions, with stricter rules, will be the key’
Macedonia has hopes of joining the EU and some progress is anticipated, with pressure, to come close to the expected European standards. The cost of emission is expected to rise as the EU tightens its emissions-trading scheme, thus making the continued use of high emitting power sources uneconomical.
January 12, 2019 at 01:33PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs