Macedonia's Greens See Red Over Deadly Smog
Macedonian environmental groups have announced more protests and possible blockades of institutions and streets, accusing the authorities of failing to address alarming air pollution.
A coalition of 21 environmentalist groups and NGOs from across Macedonia is considering more protest marches as well as possible blockades of institutions and streets during February.
They accuse the authorities of failing to take relevant action against extremely high levels of air pollution in the capital and in several other towns.
“More protest marches and maybe blockades will surely follow by the end of February because it is obvious that previous protests had very little if any effect,” Nevena Smilevska, a project coordinator at Eko-Svest, an NGO, told BIRN.
Eko-Svest is one of the 21 organizations that form part of an informal coalition against air pollution, which staged a series of protests in November and December that gathered thousands of people in Skopje, Tetovo and Bitola. One was held in front of the government building.
To show that it is taking the fight against air pollution seriously, the government in December issued a set of “recommendations” to state institutions and private firms, including exempting the sick, elderly persons and pregnant women from work.
Commuters were advised to use public transport and to carpool to combat pollution coming from traffic.
“While the urgent measures we proposed have not been implemented at all, government institutions failed to implement even the government’s own instructions,” Smilevska said.
In the last couple of months, the Ministry of Health had been recording levels from 180 to over 1,000 micrometers of cancerous PM 10 particles per cubic meter of air in parts of Skopje and in the towns of Tetovo and Bitola.
This is between four and 20 times the maximum accepted level of 50.
PM10 particles are small breathable specks that are considered one of the worst air polluters. Due to their small size they can penetrate the lungs and are known to cause cancers and other diseases.
The opposition Social Democrats, who are demanding an emergency parliamentary session as well as an emergency session of the Skopje City Council on pollution, say success depends on imposing sanctions on firms that break the rules and on subsidizing firms to respect anti-pollution measures.
“Americans have a saying: put your money where your mouth is. We believe there has to be some form of state subsidies to help businesses implement these measures,” Damjan Mancevski, the vice president of the opposition Social Democrats, said.
While most experts agree that the air pollution is the result of a combination of pollution from factories, vehicles and many households that use wood and even oil for heating in winter, a comprehensive analysis on the subject is still lacking.
The Environment Ministry has promised the completion of such analysis by April.
“It does not really matter who is the worst polluter because until we devise an integrated strategy to combat pollution, we will continue having problems,” Smilevska warned.