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How Air Pollution in Kosovo is Rooted in Poverty

Last December, children in Kosovo, a disputed territory in southeast Europe, already wore masks on their way to school. They weren’t worried about COVID-19, the deadly contagion that has since gripped the world. Instead, children wore masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Kosovo.

Power plants that run by burning coal, private residences that burn coal for heat and antiquated automobiles that run on less environmental-friendly engines contribute to air pollution in Kosovo. In particular, the Kosovo B power station, outside Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, released a massive quantity of nitrogen oxide and dust emissions until the plant’s modernization began in 2019. Modernization efforts seek to immediately improve air quality. In the long term, modernization efforts will meet the standards of the European Union’s environmental safety regulations, as well as improve Kosovo’s domestic infrastructure.

The European Union invested in two initiatives that would help Kosovo’s air pollution relief efforts. First, the European Union granted $83 million to the Kosovo B power station’s modernization. Second, the European Union invested another $7.6 million to renovate heating systems in private and public buildings throughout Kosovo, including schools and homes.

Poverty’s Impact on Methods of Heating Private Homes

Much debate surrounds the question of whether wood is an environmentally responsible source of heat energy. Many scientists fear that acknowledging wood sources as an environmentally friendly form of heat energy will give the green light to deforestation, one of the primary contributors to the environmental crisis. For many citizens of Kosovo, wood and coal are the least expensive methods to heat their homes.

Around the world, more than one and a half million people are killed each year by indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution is caused by burning substances like coal, wood and human or animal feces in small, enclosed areas with antiquated heating systems. Along with the human toll, indoor air pollution contributes to the environmental crisis.

For example, indoor air pollution is a factor that contributes to overall air pollution in Kosovo. The bulk of the E.U.’s investment to address air pollution in Kosovo went toward modernizing the Kosovo B power station. The amount of money the E.U. invested in addressing indoor air pollution amounted to about a tenth of the money the E.U. invested in modernizing the power station. Former Environment Minister Fatmir Matoshi put the weight of the responsibility of addressing indoor air pollution on Kosovo’s citizens when he asked them to refrain from using coal and wood to heat their homes. However, low-income households would face severe challenges in obtaining an alternative heating source as stated previously, wood and coal are the least expensive methods for families to heat their homes.

Efforts to Address Poverty and Air Pollution in Kosovo

People who live in poverty have to rely on more accessible, less expensive means to heat their homes. Toxic biomass fuels, like coal and wood, are used by approximately two and a half billion people worldwide. In Kosovo, people are unable to stop using coal and wood because they lack the means to heat their homes with other, non-toxic materials.

To reduce air pollution in Kosovo, poverty must first be addressed. Fortunately, some organizations are making strides to mitigate the issue. The Ideas Partnership selects individual families from minority groups in Kosovo to support. Many such families have subsisted via “garbage picking,” the only source of income and sustenance otherwise available to them. The Ideas Partnership aims to remove families from overcrowded dwellings and provide them with food and shelter, so parents can focus on educational and well-being goals for their children.

The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education recognizes the role education plays in preparing Kosovo’s youth for the labor force. Kosovo’s population is young; a quarter of its citizens are younger than 19 years old. In 2017, over one half of Kosovo’s youthful population was unemployed. The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education began in 2015. Today, more than 15,000 have participated in the program as volunteers and students. Its goal is to improve the quality of education in Kosovo while preparing students to enter the workforce.

Air pollution in Kosovo is caused by a variety of factors that must be vigorously addressed. Widespread, oppressive poverty in Kosovo is at the root of this issue. Both poverty and air pollution should be addressed simultaneously to arrive at the best results for Kosovo’s future health.

—Taylor Pangman
Photo: Pixabay