air pollution in KosovoIn December 2019, children in Kosovo, a disputed territory in Southeast Europe, wore face masks on their way to school. But, this action did not stem from curbing the spread of COVID-19, the deadly contagion that has since gripped the world. Instead, children wore face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Kosovo.

Causes of Air Pollution

Power plants that are 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 (EU) environmental safety regulations and improve Kosovo’s domestic infrastructure.

The EU invested in two initiatives that would help Kosovo’s air pollution relief efforts. First, the EU granted $83 million to the Kosovo B power station’s modernization. Second, the EU 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 world’s environmental crisis. For many citizens of Kosovo, wood and coal are the least expensive methods to heat their homes.

Around the world, indoor air pollution kills more than 1.5 million people. 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 EU’s investment to address air pollution in Kosovo went toward modernizing the Kosovo B power station. The amount of money the EU invested in addressing indoor air pollution amounted to about a tenth of the money the EU invested in modernizing the power station. Former Environment Minister Fatmir Matoshi put the weight of the responsibility in addressing indoor air pollution on Kosovo’s citizens by asking them to refrain from using coal and wood to heat their homes. However, low-income households would face severe challenges in obtaining alternative heating sources as 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 2.5 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, the nation must first address poverty. 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 subsist 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 the education and well-being of 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 the nation’s citizens are younger than 19 years old. In 2017, more than half of Kosovo’s youthful population faced unemployment. The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education began in 2015. Today, more than 15,000 citizens have participated in the program as volunteers and students. The organization’s goal is to improve the quality of education in Kosovo while preparing students to enter the workforce.

Air pollution in Kosovo links to a variety of factors that the nation must promptly address. Widespread, oppressive poverty in Kosovo stands at the root of this issue. Kosovo must address both poverty and air pollution simultaneously to achieve long-term well-being and sustainability.

—Taylor Pangman
Photo: Pixabay