Urbanization boom causes serious health problems for rising population in Skopje

DSCF3597The Macedonian capital has always been the center of historical events and a true reflection of Macedonian culture and tradition. However in recent years, the once charming city of Skopje have become one big dusty construction site swallowing old buildings and very old trees and now threatening people’s health and livelihood.

2014 was the year of the biggest urbanization boom the city of Skopje ever witnessed and also the year with the highest number of people with respiratory problems, according to a recent research done by the citizen initiative “Kje disheme ili kje izdishime”, 867.517 people with upper respiratory problems have been registered in hospitals around Skopje, out of which 282.660 children 0- 6 years old.

Official city measuring stations for PM10 particles showed numbers above 500 μg/m3 throughout autumn/winter season 2014, when according to recommendations from the World Health Organization the upper limit for PM10 particles is 50 μg/m3.

So who’s to blame?

In a 2013 interview for a local news website, the Macedonian meteorologist Pece Ristevski explained that the airflow inside the valley of the city of Skopje has been cut off by new tall buildings, especially those build at the base of Vodno Mountain- a mountain in the middle of the city serving as the lungs of the city for many years.

“These days you really cannot see the city of Skopje from Vodno mountain. Everything is covered with a thick white blanket. This is a “cold air lake” phenomenon that happens when there is no airflow and the low temperature of the soil cools the air creating the thick fog we see.“ – Says Mr. Ristevski.

Non government organizations all agree that the loss of green surfaces in the city is one of the main causes behind the issue with high air pollution in Skopje. A research done in 2013 by the NGO “Ploshtad Sloboda”, compared the state of green surfaces in neighborhoods around the city center between 2012 and 2017. According to this research there were 75.649 m2 of green surfaces in 2013, and just 34.994 m2 left in 2013. At this rate we now have less than 30% green surfaces left in the heart of the city.

The city of Skopje is also home to a big steel factory that to this day has not installed the proper filtration for the busy factory chimneys. People living close to the factory often post photos of the factory when it’s busy, and you can see dark smoke rising like a cloud over the city.

After 7 days of alarming air pollution with PM10 high in the 800 μg/m3 this winter, the mayor of Skopje, Mr.Trajanovski, announced that the city have acquired calcium magnesium acetate chemical to be sprayed on the busiest streets in Skopje and is suppose to glue the dust particles to the street. They have, however, postponed its application several times due to rain season, and to this day there is no formal announcement that they have indeed used it even once.

At a recent event in the EU info center, the Head of the EU delegation in the Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Aivo Orav gave a short speech on the importance of environmental protection in the country. He said:

“It is beyond my understanding why there is so little information about the state of air pollution in Skopje in local media. I have dear friends that live here, and every single day they are coughing more, and every single day that cough is getting worse.”

As the dust is settling after the last rain, now the city is breathing again. I sat down to breathe in some air because it’s one of those rare moments when the air is clean in this city. Trying to avoid all the monuments around me, my view was interrupted by a freshly cut tree. There was a tall building being built right next to it…

Published for greenfudge.org

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