Our home country is a beautiful place. Its beauty surrounds us, from the breathtaking nature to the friendly people. When our music is played it is easy to get carried away in a dance and when Albanian food and pastries are served, our inner child comes out. We are all part of what is worth cherishing in our country. However, we are also part of something far less beautiful.
Despite its many beauties, our home country faces challenges that jeopardize its future. Many of these are man-made, created by the same people who call this land home. Luckily, by acknowledging this, we can also become part of the solution. We can be the change.
Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe and it is plagued by major environmental problems. The unemployment rate is increasing in the wake of the pandemic and solutions to pollution, littering and environmental degradation are receiving even less attention than previously. Addressing these pressing challenges will require a collective effort, from citizens, emigres and state institutions.
Air pollution poses one of the biggest health risk factors. The estimated economic cost associated with mortality from exposure to air pollution in Kosovo is between 160 and 310 million dollars, equivalent to 2.5 to 4.7% of the gross domestic product in 2016.
Another major environmental problem is waste management and littering. While it is true that Kosovo lacks proper waste management, the basic infrastructure for correct disposal of regular waste is accessible for the majority.
Despite this, few spaces in Kosovo have been spared from littering. As litter degrades, gas, chemicals and microparticles are released into the air, soil and water, negatively affecting both humans and animals, adding further to the health bill.
As an economy largely based on services and consumption, Kosovo was particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 shock and the consequences of lower tourism were especially strong. The number of diaspora visits home halved and the country saw a 7% decrease in economic activity. These are big problems for a small developing nation.
One thing is clear, the diaspora has just as much influence to make an impact and to bring change as any local resident. Many of us travelling to Kosovo each summer come from wealthier countries, where the extent of these problems is much smaller. We possess valuable knowledge on how to combat these challenges. We could contribute to the solution simply by sticking to the same principles we live by in our places of residence.
Here are some small reminders or recommendations on how you can bring about change, to make a Kosovo where the country’s beauty is preserved, developed and enjoyed by many generations to come. And it all begins with you — be the change you want to see!
By purchasing locally produced products you stimulate the country’s economy. Jobs are created or retained, the community is strengthened and the people thrive and grow. Further, sourcing locally reduces the transportation associated with your goods and thus emits fewer greenhouse gases into the air.
Suggestion: Look for Kosovo’s flag in the market or ask for local alternatives.
Make sure you leave each place just as you found it. Ideally all places are found clean and neat but unfortunately even in the highest Rugova Mountains you can find trash scattered about. Always bring your trash with you and throw it at the next dedicated bin. Remember that cigarette butts take up to 10 years to decompose and plastic bags, up to 1,000.
Suggestion: If you can carry packages full of food and other items on a hike, you can certainly take an empty bag with you until you find the next bin.
Invest in reusable items
An easy step solution to not litter is to simply reduce the waste you create. Instead of using plastic bags intended for one-time use only, invest in a tote bag instead. Not only are they able to carry more and heavier goods but they can be reused many times. Consider also using a glass water bottle.
Suggestion: Invest in a reusable tote bag, maybe buy one from a local artist or your favourite local band?
Leave the car at home
Using public transport and walking when possible will reduce congestion and thus vehicle emissions that degrade air quality. During summer, particularly, sun and heat can transform primary air pollutants into secondary pollutants that can be even more toxic to the surroundings. Maybe this is not always an option, but carpooling, taking the bus or simply walking will allow you to leave the car and the related stress at home. The best part is that in many cases it will save you time and money, while also supporting local businesses.
Suggestion: Plan your next trip with a nationwide travel planner.
Reduce the need for coal fired electricity
Most of the electricity in Kosovo is sourced from two coal power plants, Kosovo A and B, that emit thousands of tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, making a significant contribution to air pollution. Reduce your electricity usage when possible and help lower the need for coal powered electricity and the risk of power shortages. Turn off the A/C when you’re not home and the TV when you’re having dinner. Noise decreases our sense of taste and makes it more difficult to have a conversation.
Suggestion: Only use equipment when needed and unplug them when finished.
Remember the old saying, pikë – pikë bëhet det. Or in German, kleinvieh macht auch Mist. And in English, many a mickle makes a muckle. Take care of the country you call home. Individual actions add up. You can help improve things for your compatriots. Be the change that you want to see!
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.