In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a routine regarding air pollution in Prishtina. From April to September, we remain almost completely silent on air pollution in the capital, with the exception of some TV debates. In mid-October the situation starts to change: It becomes colder, and we start to consume more energy. Power plants increase their production capacity and so pollution levels increase.
From mid-October to March, there’s a state of emergency: endless publications of photos on social media displaying high levels of air pollution; TV debates with experts, members of civil society and institutional officials; protests in the streets; people wearing masks; and in the end everyone accepts the next resolution approved in the Kosovo Assembly, as well as a number of temporary measures taken by the Municipality of Prishtina.
When spring comes, things change again. The debate and any actions in relation to air pollution disappear from public discourse. Pollution is no longer amongst us. The situation goes back to normal.
This is the ‘strategy of normalization’ that the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning (MESP) aims to practice continuously. Whenever people revolt against air pollution, MESP has to neutralize the protests by normalizing air pollution.
Three fundamental sequences show that resistance against air pollution should be transformed into a 24/7, year-round endeavor against a Ministry that aims to manage a crisis by normalizing it.
First sequence: Forgotten agreements
In February 2017 in Prishtina, the government and the EU Commission held the first meeting of the Sub-committee for Transport, the Environment, Energy, Climate and Regional Development, in accordance with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).
Both parties reached an agreement on four points regarding air pollution, which boil down to four elementary tasks for the Government of Kosovo — specifically MESP.
The first was approving the Action Plan for Air Pollution 2017-19, which both parties agreed upon. According to the agreement, this task should have been completed in the third quarter of 2017, namely by the end of September 2017. Although this strategy is in the virtual drawers of MESP, it remains an aspirational wishlist.
The second was Installing central software for monitoring air pollution in real time. This second task was due to be completed in the first quarter of 2018. Although two months late, in May the Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency (KEPA) notified citizens that the system for monitoring air pollution in real time had been installed and published online.
However, there are many question marks regarding the system. First of all, the system is still in the testing phase, so the data within it is not correct or credible. Secondly, the online page resembles a ’90s internet web page, rather than a serious modern system. Thirdly, the system does not even fulfill the minimum standards for notifying citizens in real time about the air they breathe. Fourthly, there is no information about the monitoring methodology, sensor typology, etc.
It seems to be more a task completed to fulfil an obligation for bureaucratic reports, rather than work conducted to positively change the situation in the field.
The third task for Kosovo’s government, as agreed with the EU, was monitoring air quality in real time throughout Kosovo for six consecutive months and publishing data online, as well as submitting data to the European Commission. MESP was due to complete this task by the third quarter of 2017.
The data has belatedly been partially published on KEPA’s official page, however as explained above, fundamentally it is not being published in real time, and the published data is not credible, bearing in mind the recommendations of the EU Progress Reports from 2014 until the present day.
The fourth and final task was for MESP to identify sources of air pollution and to immediately implement measures for reducing it. MESP was due to complete the former by the third quarter of 2017 and the latter by the fourth quarter of 2017. Again, the Science for Change Movement has been unable to find any documents or publications on the official web pages of MESP on AMMK in relation to this task.
But the tale of unfulfilled agreements doesn’t end there. In March 2018 in Prishtina, the Government of Kosovo and the EU held the second meeting of the Sub-committee for Transport, the Environment, Energy, Climate and Regional Development in accordance with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Most likely, the meeting should have served as a kind of evaluation of the work of MESP regarding their duties.
The EU stated in a press release: “On the environment, the Commission expressed concern at the very limited progress in this area which is of great importance to Kosovo citizens and the quality of their health and lives. In particular, the Commission again expressed concern at the limited progress on air quality monitoring and asked for implementation of immediate measures to reduce the levels of air pollution, as was also requested by the Assembly in February 2018.” This not only shows the working dynamic of MESP and KEPA, but it also brings us to the second sequence, which merits a short analysis.
Second sequence: Forgotten resolutions
During December 2017 and January 2018, Prishtina experienced one its most polluted periods. U.S. Embassy data, as well as measurements taken by the Science for Change Movement, showed extraordinary levels of pollutions. This incited the citizens to mobilize and protest against air pollution in unprecedented numbers. As such, in February 2018, the Kosovo Assembly and the Municipal Assembly of Prishtina approved resolutions against air pollution.
The resolution approved by the Kosovo Assembly includes 19 concise points that could serve as a good starting point for the work of MESP. There is no space here for dealing with each point one by one, but some of them are very measurable, if they are applied.