Citizens of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, which is regularly included in the list of the cities with the most polluted air in the world, are currently breathing air that is less polluted than in the previous years, according to state authorities. They say the outcome can be seen as a result of dedicated measures to reduce air pollution.
Air pollution in Skopje has been extreme for several years. In January 2019, the city procured air purifiers for all high school classrooms. Air pollution is also a major issue in the entire Western Balkans.
But data from state measuring stations in Skopje showed air pollution in January has been the lowest in the last seven years for the month, according to the City of Skopje, portal Nezavisen Vesnik reported.
The maximum daily average value of PM10 was 162 in 2021, while in 2015 it was 560
Last month, the maximum daily average value of particulate matter PM10 was 162, while in 2015 it was 560, official information revealed.
The number of days when the daily average concentration of PM10 was above the limit value (50mg/m3) is declining and so are the measured averages of daily maximums and minimums. All state measuring stations in Centar, Gazi Baba, Rektorat, Novo Lisiče, and Karpoš recorded the best values for January for the past several years.
For example, in January 2016 there were 26 days with daily average concentrations above the maximum value in Centar, and this year there were only 13. The highest concentration of PM10 in January 2017 on a daily basis was 482.40 PM10 per cubic meter, and in January 2021 it was 141.30, according to the data provided by the City of Skopje.
In Gazi Baba, Karpoš, and Novo Lisiče, the number of days with daily average concentrations above the maximum value, the smallest concentration on a daily scale and the maximum daily concentration were all the lowest in the last seven years.
City: Trend, not incident
City officials said the data demonstrate a trend and not an incident. They added the annual concentration of PM10 is also decreasing.
According to the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, the continuous implementation of measures over the last two years has produced results.
Polluting heating systems were replaced in some administrative and health facilities including the Polyclinic in Čair, subsidies were granted for the replacement of old stoves in households with inverter air conditioners and for the switch of outdated heating systems in schools and kindergartens, and for the installation of solar photovoltaic panels, according to the ministry.
Citizens can report air pollution sources to the state inspectorate
Some results were achieved due to stricter controls of the sources of the pollution after the public was given the opportunity to report pollution directly to the State Environmental Inspectorate.
The government has adopted a program for the reduction of air pollution for this year as well, and the ministries implement various activities to reduce air pollution. For example, the Ministry of Economy has announced a program for the promotion of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency in households for 2021 and a program for subsidizing part of the costs for installation of a device for using LPG, methane, or other alternative fuels in vehicles, the ministry said.
The ministry is also preparing changes in the legislation. It has prepared and proposed amendments to the law on ambient air quality, which established criteria and adopted a list of municipalities that will have to prepare clean air plans.
In addition, in accordance with the European Union rules, there is an obligation for certain municipalities to adopt short-term action plans in periods when there is high air pollution, and they have to be approved by the ministry. The plans should contain mandatory measures for transport, industry, vulnerable groups, and working hours, the ministry said.
State Audit Institution: Most measures haven’t been not implemented
Last week, the State Audit Institution published an air quality report which indicates that the activities implemented in the last three years, although they represent a positive step, have not achieved the desired results in reducing air pollution.
The problem of air pollution in the country requires a systematically integrated approach from all stakeholders (institutions at the central and local levels, the private sector and citizens) in the long run, the institution said.
Supervision and control are at a low level, and a very small part of the budget funds at the level of the government and municipalities are allocated for the implementation of the measures included in the planning documents.
In the end, the majority of measures haven’t been implemented, according to the final audit report on air quality.
Eko-svest: The problem is not solved
According to non-governmental organization Eko-svest, air pollution is still too high this year, especially in Skopje.
“The citizens must force the institutions to do more in solving this big problem. The institutions are required to have a strategy for a just energy transition, green alternatives for transport, as well as just regulation for efficient heating of households,” according to the group.
The organization said citizens and institutions need to ask themselves what vehicles they drive, what fuels and transportation they use, how they heat homes, what they do with harmful waste, if they use renewable energy sources, what industry is around them, and if they participate in making important decisions for the community in which they live.