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News 07 Feb 17

Air Pollution Grips Macedonian Capital

In a bid to curb the record-breaking levels of air pollution, Macedonia's green party is demanding that a health emergency be declared in the capital Skopje and in other towns.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Anti-pollution protest in Skopje. Archive photo: Anadolu

The Democratic Renewal of Macedonia, DOM party – the country’s green political force – has accused the authorities of not doing enough to curb the dangerous air pollution in Skopje and other major towns.

DOM said that the free bus transport that the Skopje authorities launched on Tuesday, in an attempt to reduce car journeys and therefore pollution, was insufficient to deal with the crisis.

"Bearing in mind that the air pollution is affecting all larger Macedonian towns, DOM insists that the government should declare a state of emergency," the party said.

Since the start of winter, when air pollution usually reaches its peak, the greens have been demanding a no-vehicle zone in central Skopje, the temporary closure of all construction sites, the banning of vehicles that do not satisfy the Euro 4 emissions standard, as well as lower electricity prices to encourage households to stop using fossil fuels and wood for heat.

The greens have also demanded a system in which cars with odd and even numbers on their plates are allowed to be used on alternate days to reduce pollution.

But Skopje mayor Koce Trajanovski said he could not act without parliamentary approval.

"We can't do this alone. For that we need a functional parliament that would vote for such a law," Trajanovski told media at a press conference on Monday.

Macedonia has had no government since early elections on December 11 as talks on forming an administration continue.

For several years, air pollution levels in Skopje, but also in the towns of Bitola, Kicevo, Tetovo Kumanovo and Kavadarci, have reached record highs in the winter months.

Particularly problematic is the high level of PM10 particles, small breathable specks that are considered one of the worst air polluters. Due to their small size they can penetrate the lungs and are known to cause cancers and other diseases.

The pollution with PM10 particles in the capital on Monday night reached a staggering 680 index points. According to European air quality standards, this is almost 14 times higher than the highest acceptable level of 50 index points and more than enough to warrant declaring a health warning. 

The charts on the website mojvozduh.eu that displays hourly data from all the measuring stations in Macedonia shows that the pollution in the capital peaked during the weekend and on Monday.

The launch of this privately maintained site several years ago, after the authorities failed to provide timely data on air pollution despite popular demand, raised awareness among Macedonians about the deadly smog.

"I avoid going outside when there is a thick fog. On Monday I did not take my children to school because of the pollution, after seeing that in my neighbourhood it is on the red level," said Ivana Stameska from Skopje, who adds that she regularly checks the website.

"It is becoming unbearable. The air smells foul. We have to do something in the long run," said Glogor Botev, another Skopje resident.

"I definitely support the declaration of an emergency. This is a health disaster and we are doing nothing. People should stay home," suggested Aleksandar, 33, a resident of Skopje's municipality of Centar.

The air pollution has long caused political differences. 

The main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM claim that the pollution has surged in the last few years, mainly as a result of a government measure to allow import of hundreds of thousands of used vehicles from abroad and the administration’s lack of a systematic strategy on pollution.

The main ruling VMRO DPMNE party on the other hand insists that the pollution was there before, but no one was measuring it.

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