When I started my European Voluntary Service in Macedonia I had high hopes for what I would see and experience. I thought I will be in a country that’s rather different from Estonia. I was particularly excited about exploring Macedonian culture and nature. In my first week in Skopje I went hiking from Vodno to Matka. I fell in love with the scenery that I saw in the six hour hike.
After that the heating period started and one morning I went out and the city was covered in smog. I thought to myself is that one time phenomenon or is this how it’s going to be the whole time I’m here. As the weather got colder the smog got even more intense. Everytime I would go out I would later smell smoke in my hair and clothes. I started to look into the issue more and discovered the various factors that play part in the air pollution.
Because I saw air pollution as rather big issue in Macedonia I decided to ask other foreigners how do they feel about the air pollution in Macedonia. I questioned 3 people from different countries and ages.
Elisa: I am 23 years old and I come from France. I stayed in Macedonia for 4 days.
Paulina: I come from Poland and I am 24 years old. I have been in Skopje almost 2 months and I will stay here until December 2018.
Peter: 17 years old coming from Germany. I have been living in Kavadarci 4 1/2 months.
Have you been exposed to air pollution before you came to Macedonia?
Elisa: I’ve always lived in big cities so I probably have been exposed to air pollution, but never as intensively as in Macedonia.
Paulina: Yes, I’ve been but not on the same level. In Poland I lived in the city with quite low level of smog. Of course, during winter the level of smog increase but for me personally it’s not that oppressively. Also the high level of smog is more common in rural parts of city that i usually don’t go.
Have you noticed air pollution in Macedonia? When did you first notice it? How you feel about it?
Elisa: I had been warned about it, but I noticed it as soon as I stepped out of the airport. I felt it everytime I stepped outside during those 4 days. It feels like the air is thick, heavy and you are unable to take deep breaths. I noticed that while I was in Macedonia I started coughing without being sick. My cousin and two other volunteers who have lived there for a few months now are sick and blame the pollution. I can only imagine the serious health problems it causes for people who grow up there.
Paulina: Unfortunately I noticed air pollution here. In general Macedonia is not a clean country. Trash on the streets, in the tourists places etc. I noticed this during my first weeks, when i couldn’t see stars. The sky was often in grey colours. Talks with macedonian people just ensured me that it’s a big problem now and Macedonia is on the top in general smog statistics. Many people got a dry cough here. During talk with my mum, she asked me even if I’m sick because I sound different. It was at the beginning, my body still not adjusted to environment. I cant wai’t till spring , I hope the air will be just a bit cleaner.
Peter: Yes I have. I’ve noticed it in the streets of Kavadarci, when the “fog” turned out to be polluted air. The day after that Skopje was the highest polluted city in the world (13.12.17). Really shocked me.
What do you think is the cause of air pollution in Macedonia (Skopje)?
Paulina: I think it’s mainly burning trash with not proper places, big factories, using low quality of carbon and too much cars in the city.
Peter: In Skopje there are many reasons that come together. On the one hand side, the natural air circulation was completely disregarded during the building process of Skopje 2014. By building all kinds of new buildings, chopping down trees in the inner city and not refunding the now dismissed environmental needs, the city suffered heavy nature-structural problems. One of the biggest being the air pollution. On the other hand, the use of vehicles is extraordinary high in Skopje. The people use their cars for the smallest ways instead of walking or taking the bike. Public transport is provided, but not used enough to conquer this issue. The privatization of the main “company” for central heating is another issue. It caused high heating prices and forced many people to switch to wood burning to keep their place warm. Good for the investor. Bad for the environment.
Do you know what type of effect air pollution can have on body?
Elisa: Without any research, I know it shortens your lifespan. It causes cancer. From what I observed it can also cause lung diseases and various skin problems, and much more I am sure.
Paulina: Unfortunately it can have an effect on the whole respiratory system and also compound immune system and we can be sick more often and longer.
Do you feel that air pollution in Skopje has had an effect on your health? If yes give an example.
Elisa: The coughing I experienced was nothing deadly, but it shows how fast air pollution can get to you.
Paulina: At the beginning I was coughing quite a lot. Now it’s better but I know that with every breath I give to my body harmful substances.
Peter: Yes. Whenever I was in Skopje during the last month, it almost felt like an acure to go inside of a building. Outside, the air was hardly endurable.
How important is clean air for you?
Elisa: It’s not a topic I used to think about, but since visiting Macedonia it has become very important. I’m concerned for the people living there but also for the future of the planet.
Paulina: My health is important to me and I realized that things that Im doing now can effect in the future. Simply, it’s just too nice to breathe fresh air and admire clear sky.
What do you think could help to clear the air in Macedonia?
Elisa: It seems that the new generation is fully aware of the situation and wants to change it. Maybe creating workshops that bring young people together to inform them on what can be done against pollution, brainstorm solutions together, try to convince them that they have the power to change things. Inform them on what subjects they can study, how to start a green association at University, how to build your own Green Energy initiative. It’s a slow process but at our scale I don’t know what else could be done. Maybe by talking to local people/journalists and asking their opinion on how to change this.
Paulina: Firstly, its awareness among the people that smog is a serious problem and every citizen can help to solve this problem. Its common responsibility because people burn the trash and use appropriate ways of heating. Would be good to start talks about smog with children and young people. Except that of course, they need concrete actions from government not only words.
Peter: Use public transportation or a bicycle. Raise awareness about the damage of wood burning heating systems. Being conscientious about the future and the problems we will cause.
All in all it’s fair to say that the air pollution in Macedonia is very visible to everybody. And not only does it affect the locals but also the foreigners who travel or stay here for certain period. I do think people have been starting to take action against air pollution so there is hope that the air will get cleaner in the future. Meanwhile it’s better to be cautious when the air is more polluted.