Skopje: Welcome to Europe's most polluted city
The capital of the Republic of Macedonia is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Macedonian authorities have taken emergency measures to fight high air pollution levels in Skopje - with little to no effect.
Air pollution causes more than 1,300 premature deaths per year in the Macedonian capital, according to official statistics. Particle pollution (PM) in Skopje is more than ten times higher than the air quality standards set by the European Union - both regarding PM10 - particles measuring less than 10 microns - and smaller PM2,5 particles, which can enter the lungs and even the bloodstream.
The problem escalates every winter as a result of industrial emissions, smoke from wood-burning stoves and exhaust fumes from old cars. Macedonian authorities have announced a set of emergency measures aimed at fighting the high air pollution levels. Public transport is temporarily free for everyone. Pregnant women and people over 60 years of age are excused from work.
Cycling in Skopje - a risky adventure
Skopje’s public transportation system is underdeveloped, consisting only of buses. Many of these do not meet the most basic environmental standards. Bicycles are rarely used because the city lacks the necessary infrastructure and road traffic culture makes cycling a risky adventure, with accidents on an almost daily occurence.
The height of fashion
Local media reported that shops in Skopje have run out of anti-pollution masks as many residents are looking for protection from the polluted air. Local NGOs are alarmed: Pollution in Skopje is above average on 269 days per year, they warned, asking the government and local authorities to subsidize a series of measures which could improve air quality in the long term.
No quick solutions
Stuttgart, one of the most polluted cities in Germany, raises an alarm when the PM10 particles in the air reach 80 micrograms per cubic meter. In Skopje, the average for winter months is more than twice as high - around 200 - with peaks often reaching 600 micrograms of PM10 or more. Even geopolitical interests are involved in the fight against pollution.
As the air pollution in Macedonia worsened, the US Embassy in Skopje asked for ideas via Twitter. "AirPollution in Skopje was so thick today, you could hardly see the embassy! What ideas do you have for cleaner air in #Macedonia?" It is not unusual for the US and other Western embassies in Macedonia to engage in such public stunts. But this time the answer came directly from Moscow…
"As our friends from @usembassymkd are searching for ideas for the air pollution in Macedonia we want to help with a solution. #TurkishStream," answered the Russian embassy. Turkish Stream is a Russian pipeline which - if completed - should run from Turkey to Greece and Macedonia to reach other Eastern European countries. The US are pushing for alternatives for the energy supply in the region.
Clean air and spectacular views
As Skopje is located in a valley surrounded by mountains from three sides, the only viable solution for its residents during the winter months is to search for a getaway in the nearby highlands. Apart from the clean air, they can enjoy some spectacular views - with their pets.