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Coal-Tainted Air Smothers Kosovo

Government says that after years of promising to shutter a filthy power plant, real action is on the horizon.

9 February 2018

Smog troubles the Balkans every winter, but in Kosovo’s capital Pristina conditions are often worse than on the rest of the peninsula.

 

For a few days in late January, Pristina was the most polluted city in the world, according to Balkan Insight, citing air-quality data provided by the U.S. Embassy.

 

Reuters reported that the embassy registered levels of pollution even higher than in Shanghai and Hangzhou in China, cities with notoriously dirty air. U.S. officials deemed the pollution level in Pristina “hazardous” and advised people to stay inside.

 

The air pollution is caused primarily by Kosovo’s old coal-fired power plants, the private use of coal for heating, and emissions from old cars.

 

Protest against pollution in Pristina. Photo: Facebook/Kosovo 2.0

 

Heavy smog returns to Kosovo and Pristina every winter, with severe consequences for public health. A doctor with the Kosovo National Institute of Public Health, Antigona Ukehaxhaj, said last year that she was seeing a steady increase in the number of people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, breathing problems, and cancer – especially among children, Balkan Insight writes.

 

As the air grew steadily worse last month, on 31 January several hundred people protested on the streets of Pristina to demand action from their government. According to ABC News, they demanded lower public transport fares, more green areas in the city, and a long-term plan to repair the damage.

 

Two days of discussions in Kosovo’s parliament followed, after which a 19-point nonbinding resolution to counteract pollution was accepted, Pristina Insight reports.

 

During the debate, Environment Minister Albena Reshitaj said the government plans to close the oldest coal plant, Kosovo A, modify another, and follow through on 13 years of promises by building a third, modern coal plant.

 

Kosovo A was built in 1962 and is generally regarded as the main culprit behind the air pollution.

 

In December the government struck a deal with the American energy group ContourGlobal to construct the new plant, dubbed Kosovo e Re, or “New Kosovo.” The project is due for completion in 2023, according to RFE/RL.

 

 

  • Pollution emitted by coal-burning power plants and residential furnaces is a widespread problem across Central and Eastern Europe. Recently the Smog Free Tower, an art project by Dutch designer Daan van Roosengaarde, was moved to Krakow as a means of raising attention for Poland’s heavy pollution.

 

  • A recent study by the trans-European Health and Environment Alliance found that 16 still active communist-era lignite plants in the Balkans emit the same amount of pollution as all of the EU’s 296 power plants.

Compiled by Wasse Jonkhans

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