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News 09 Feb 18

Kosovo's Polluted Air Takes Toll on People's Health

As Kosovars protest over data that suggest their capital has perhaps the most polluted air in the world, a BIRN Kosovo TV show has recalled the damage this is doing to people's health.

Die Morina
Photo: Atdhe Mulla

Following the high level of air pollution recorded in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, in the winter  months, BIRN Kosovo's TV show Jeta ne Kosove on Thursday summarise ten years of reporting on this problem and concluded that the damage to people's health was the biggest cost that citizens are paying.  

It comes after hundreds of people Pristina staged a protest on January 31 in reaction to data provided by the US consulate’s Pristina Air Quality Monitor, which showed that Pristina was the most polluted city in the world during the last few days.

“Even greater than [bills] is the cost that you pay ...  in terms of bad health as a result of the pollution generated by burning coal,” an American professor of neurology, Allan Llokuod, told Jeta ne Kosove back in 2013.

The situation since then had worsened, however, according a doctor from the Kosovo National Institute of Public Health, Antigona Ukehaxhaj.

She spoke last year to the programme of an increasing number of children with lung diseases.

“We have had an increasing number of hospital admissions for respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases,” Ukehaxhaj said.

She noted that because of the contaminated air, the number of those with breathing problems, even cancer, had practically doubled, “especially children”.

The biggest source of the problem is coal. Many residents of Pristina still use coal to heat their homes, and it is this domestic use of coal, as well as the country's contentious coal-powered energy plant, that are responsible for the city's terrible air contamination.

Haki Abazi, the founder of the civil society consortium for economic development, KOSID, told the show in 2017 that the issue needs to be more widely discussed, so that citizens fully understand the health cost of air pollution.

“Then they would understand that burning coal causes diseases, which makes family budgets smaller, because they then have to invest in drugs and other things,” Abazi says.

Although it is known that coal is a serious polluter, Kosovo has signed an agreement with an America company, Contour Global, that will construct and manage new coal power plant.

Many question the wisdom of this decision. In 2012, at a conference an American expert Dan Kaman from the University of California presented other alternatives that Kosovo could try, maintaining that coal was not the only solution to the country's energy issues.

“There is a real alternative; it doesn’t mean that it [coal] is the only right choice,” Kaman told Jeta ne Kosove in 2012.

“Using a reasonable amount of solar, wind and bio-mass along with hydro [power] provides enough options,” he said.

“We see variable cases that can meet the need, and one of the key aspects of the story is that energy efficiency needs to become quite central,” he added.

Following Kaman's research, a former speaker of Kosovo's parliament, Jakup Krasniqi. admitted that the country's energy policies were failing.

“Over 12 years now, Kosovo’s energy sector has followed inappropriate policies,” Krasniqi said in 2012.

Following the recent protest in Pristina, two days of discussions in the Kosovo Assembly session on air pollution ended with a 19-point resolution – but whether anything really changes remains to be seen.

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