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The Air Pollution in Macedonia Is Bringing People Into the Streets, And There’s an App for That

Gorjan Jovanovski on the mass protest held in front of the Macedonian government in Skopje (28.12.2015). Photo by Vanco Dzambaski.

Gorjan Jovanovski attends protest in front of Macedonia's government building in Skopje. December 28, 2015. Photo by Vanco Dzambaski (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Thousands of people protested in front of Macedonia's government building on December 28, 2015, demanding new measures to alleviate the country's suffocating air pollution. The first speaker to address the crowd was Gorjan Jovanovski, a developer of the Web-based and Android application “Moj Vozduh” (My Air), which uses open data to display levels of air pollution throughout Macedonia.

High pollution levels have been plaguing Macedonia for years, especially the cities of Skopje and Tetovo, which are among Europe's most polluted areas. In 2012, Global Voices reported on activists’ efforts to make the results of air-quality monitoring more visible, following a decision by the nation's authorities to stop publishing the data online.

In December 2015, Macedonia's government continued to ignore demands to take new measures against air pollution, leading to protests by environmental associations and their supporters. After a mass demonstraton in Tetovo, citizens organized under the motto “We can’t breathe,” later holding a mass protest in Skopje, as well.

Restrictions on the movement of vehicles in downtown Skopje, the introduction of a traffic regime on days when there are high levels of pollution, the banning of vehicles that use fuels below the “Euro 4″ standard diesel, and lowering the cost of tickets for public transport are just some of the measures demonstrators and environmental organizations from Skopje, Tetovo, Bitola, Kocani, and Kicevo are demanding from authorities. Demonstrators insist they won’t stop until the concentration of carcinogenic particles PM10 and PM2.5 are brought under the maximum limit.

Environmental organizations and other associations have sent an ultimatum to the authorities, demanding action, faced with the threat of mass protests by demonstrators who would block all polluted cities.

Citizens on the mass protest agains air pollution held in front of the Macedonian government in Skopje (28.12.2015) Photo by: Vanco Dzambaski, used with permission

Citizens on the mass protest agains air pollution held in front of the Macedonian government in Skopje (28.12.2015) Photo by: Vanco Dzambaski (CC-BY-NC-SA).

After the protests, the “My Air” open data app suffered a major blow. The author Gorjan Jovanovski explained:

“MojVozduh” recently celebrated its one year birthday! It was launched in January of 2015, but development started in December of 2014. So far, it has over 30.000 daily users which check the application for the air quality in their hometown. It is becoming a household name, with almost everyone with a smartphone knowing what “MojVozduh” is. Android and the web were a first choice of platform, but soon there will be an iOS application, as well as one for Windows Phone!

In late December of 2015, I attended and gave a speech at a protest about the government’s inactivity over the high pollution levels that would sometimes reach as far as 10 times over the set EU limits. Unfortunately, someone didn’t like the existence and awareness that “Moj Vozduh” created, and early in January of 2016, hit the application with a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), where from the normal 200.000 requests made to the server daily, that day we had well over 38 million (27 million of which our provider cached and helped me by not charging for them, but 9 million were billed to my account). Luckily I managed to save the data, transfer it to more stable servers and put an extra layer of security on top of that. The call for donations which was made gained a lot of attention, and in just 48 hours funds were raised that covered all the expenses that had occurred so far since the launch of “Moj Vozduh” and even during the attack.

Recently, “Moj Vozduh” has been accused by the Minister of Environment that the data stated there is wrong, which concerns me, since the data is pulled automatically from their own servers, and no changes to it are being made from my end.

I really hope that this will be the last year that pollution of this magnitude is measured in Macedonia, but unless we all take immediate action, a clean future will remain just a grim hope for us all.

Macedonia has some of the highest air pollution in Europe, creating severe health risks. Residents, especially those living in big cities, battle air pollution on a daily basis. The data provided by the application “Moj Vozduh” reveals that Tetovo—one of the most polluted cities in Macedonia in 2015—was, formally speaking, polluted 350 days of the year.

Protests against air pollution in 2015 and 2014 took place in the bigger cities of Macedonia: Skopje, Tetovo, and Bitola. In 2014, hundreds of residents in northwestern Macedonia protested against the government's decision to extend yet another deadline for the Jugohrom steel factory to install anti-pollution filters at its seven furnaces in Tetovo, the country's most polluted city.

Citizens on the mass protest agains air pollution held in front of the Macedonian government in Skopje (28.12.2015) Photo by: Vanco Dzambaski, used with permission

Citizens on the mass protest agains air pollution held in front of the Macedonian government in Skopje. December 28, 2015. Photo by Vanco Dzambaski, used with permission.

The “My Air” application aggregates and stores data provided by measuring stations run by the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, converting it into 5-star open data. It then presents the information so it's understandable to the public. The app operates in Macedonian, Albanian, and English. While most people only react to pollution when they can “see and taste the air,” it's worth noting that fog does not equal smog (smoke plus fog), and actual pollution can only be determined by the appropriate measuring.

Using "My Air" app on a sunny day in Skopje. Photo by Dona Dzambaska, CC-BY.

Using “My Air” app on a sunny day in Skopje. Photo by Dona Dzambaska, CC 2.0.

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