Macedonia: Problems With Transparent Online Reporting of Air Pollution in Skopje

According to the blog of GreenBox NGO, Skopje's city government is not interested in providing funds for the online system that informs citizens about the current levels of air pollution.

The automatic system for measuring pollution, located in the center of Skopje, caused quite a stir when it reported alarming levels of air pollution last year.

Some observers related the presence of the cancerous PM10 dust particles to the government-funded construction boom in the Center municipality, which had been turned into a giant construction site through the Skopje 2014 project. The surrounding area is also an epicenter of the activities of the so-called “urban mafia” that uses connections within the local government to change zoning laws and convert public parks, parking lots and small houses to huge and profitable apartment blocks, office spaces and shops.

The “Skopje Breathing” online system [mk], owned by the City of Skopje, stopped functioning at the beginning of January 2012 (1, 2; mk), after several media outlets (1, 2, 3, 4; mk) reported that the air quality was still poor. The webpage displayed this text: “Software upgrade is under way. The application will soon be available.”

Screen shot of Skopje Breething monitoring system, which is 'in construction' since early January 2012.

GreenBox blog posted [mk] the following:

Would you like to know about the quality of the air in the center of Skopje? Then you need to put on your snow shoes, parka, hat, scarf and gloves and trek to Macedonia Street to check the information by looking at the display near the Šmizla [equivalent of the Valley Girl or Barbie-girl stereotype] statue. The website “Skopje Breathing,” which published a live data feed until Christmas [old calendar = Jan 7], is still not working, and most likely will not work in the future.

Air pollution measuring station (right), Šmizla statue (left). Photo by GreenBox blog, republished with permission.

Air pollution measuring station (right), Šmizla statue (left). Photo by GreenBox blog, republished with permission.

The environmental lab of the company Farmahem, which maintained the system for a year, confirmed that the issue at stake is more than a software upgrade. Their contract has expired, and the City of Skopje has not initiated a renewal. Farmahem allegedly wanted to upgrade the system with a public archive with the measured data, but now the citizens need to turn to the city government, which decides the destiny of this online transparency tool.

The City of Skopje representatives seem totally uninterested in ensuring that the publication of the air quality data online continues. The [City of Skopje's] spokesperson Nedelčo Krstevski says that the website appeared thanks to the initiative and goodwill of the company.

“The website was not ours. At the moment we cannot say whether it depends on us or on Farmahem. For us the important thing is that the measuring stations work and that the citizens can get air quality info from displays on the devices,” Krstevski said.

The City representatives admit that for the “Skopje Breathing” to continue working they would need to start a public procurement procedure, which, according to them, was very complicated and included a public tender. They do not know if that is going to happen.

“I cannot tell you anything now, neither that the site will exist, nor that it won't exist,” said Krstevski.

Through “Skopje Breathing” the citizens learned that the air pollution in the capital was up to 10 times higher than the maximum allowed by law. This resulted in recommendations not to go out at all. After the public pressure forced the city government and the Ministry of Environment to send inspections to the nearby industrial plants, the levels of pollution temporarily dropped. According to the research [mk] by the Institute for Public Health, Skopje could avoid 117 deaths and 420 cases of serious illnesses per year if the concentration of dust dropped by a third of the current levels.


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