The level of pollution of the environment and the quality of life of the people of North Macedonia has been alarming for over a decade. The water, air and soil are immensely polluted, and because of improper urban planning, cities are in a state of chaos. Considering that the environmental media are inter-linked, one problem is transmitted to all other media. We are facing numerous problems – air pollution, lack of waste management, neglect of industrial capacities, inadequate agricultural practices, inadequate control of relevant state and local institutions… Strategic planning and energy resources planning are needed to ensure their optimal use and public authorities should adopt more stimulating measures for citizens to be able to use alternative energy sources.
First up – the facts
According to the latest Report on Air Pollution in Europe of the European Environment Agency, North Macedonia has the worst ranking among all European countries, with the most polluted air in the cities. Skopje, Bitola and Tetovo were among the 10 most polluted cities in Europe in 2017. According to the World Bank, air pollution is costing the state approximately 300 million euros annually for health services, and the World Health Organization estimates that as a result of air pollution in North Macedonia, over 1,300 people die annually.
North Macedonia is also considered a country with a water deficit of approximately 6.4 billion cubic meters during an average year. Its water resources, according to the water stress indicator of the main basins, are located in a heavily exploited category. Estimates are that only about 7 percent of the country’s total waste water is being purified, and in most cases modern purification technologies are not used.
According to the data of the Ministry of Environment, metallurgical waste covers large areas of arable land in North Macedonia, reducing land availability. Soil is also contaminated indirectly through air and water, so the contaminating substances permeate the soil through rain and deposit, ending up in the agricultural products.
Waste management is also a major problem. In fact, all waste (99.5%) is dumped or disposed of in illegal landfills (there are around 1,000 such landfills throughout the country) or municipal landfills that are not compliant with EU waste management guidelines and standards. Combustion of medical waste poses a major threat. Utility companies collect waste mainly in cities with trucks and out of containers that are old and damaged. There are no state or municipal systems for organized selection and recycling of waste.
Urban planning is closely linked to environmental issues and the quality of life. Nevertheless, the city center of the capital Skopje faced a decade-long urban development that did not take into consideration the humane and quality life of citizens and whose modus operandi instead favored profits, the automobile industry, business interests, and politics. The consequences are numerous: lost areas of quality public space, parking lots and garages that attract cars in the immediate center, squandered green urban areas, depraved traffic safety for pedestrians, bikers and persons with disabilities, dramatically reduced space for walking, inadequate public transport and incomprehensive city mobility. Traffic noise in some areas close to schools and hospitals is even double the permitted levels. Changes in the city’s urban design and dynamics resulted with a significant decrease in quality of life, increased air pollution, reduced sunlight in the city’s quarters and homes, decreased street safety, lack of capacities of social services, kindergartens and spaces for youth, directly influencing women’s access to the labor market etc. It is crucial to explore new understandings about the function of the city, contrary to the current changes in the laws, unsustainable model of municipal financing and notable political and business influences on the city design and plans.
Why a Public Interest Campaign?
Although citizens in North Macedonia are becoming more environmentally aware and public institutions recognize environmental issues as important, environmental problems are not being solved strategically. While citizens criticize and discuss mainly on social networks, institutions are not creating efficient solutions to improve the environment and are not transparent in policy making and implementation.
Therefore, the Institute of Communication Studies launched the public interest campaign for a better environment “Don’t Ignore! React!”. For over two years and in various projects, through a variety of online platforms, the Institute has enabled citizens to directly engage in the debate on issues of public interest, to ask questions and to comment on social issues that affect them, as well as to get answers from the relevant public institutions. The campaign “Don’t Ignore! React!” complements our goal. With the help of the campaign, we’ve increased the pressure on the authorities for more efficient solving of environmental problems, and at the same time we encouraged and directed civic activism towards state and local institutions to accept the concept of sustainable development. Through various events, actions and media products, we have exposed the problems we are facing as a community, we have directed the issues to the relevant institutions and provoked solutions for a better quality of life.
“Don’t Ignore! React!” is a platform for every concerned individual, uniting us all, so our voice can be heard. We are constantly encouraging all those who are concerned about the environment to join us in the campaign, to raise their voice and take action to improve the conditions in which we live. We tell public institutions that it is time for a change. They have the authority to work towards solving problems that not only concern us all, but also are inexcusable.
And the list goes on
The campaign “Don’t Ignore! React!” is being implemented all year long and it is divided into three key topics: (1) Sustainable cities, (2) Healthy environment and (3) Climate change. The Institute of Communication Studies is not implementing this campaign on its own. We have formed an expert group that helps us in identifying the real problems and solutions, and the activities are implemented in cooperation with faculties, secondary schools, NGOs, civil initiatives, experts from various fields, opinion makers and media. 17 media outlets (television stations, radio stations, newspapers and online portals) joined the campaign, including the Public Service – the National TV and radio. They all report on the campaign and produce their own content about the campaign topics. In this way, they inform citizens about their rights and who they can address about their problems, but also how to become active in influencing the authorities to find solutions and be more responsible in the implementation of policies.
I think that together we can achieve more in improving the environment and that’s why people should join civic initiatives for environmental improvement or public interest campaigns similar to “Don’t Ignore! React!”. We all deserve to live in a healthy environment. However, in order to achieve this, we need to speak up and be heard.
Dejan Andonov is the Coordinator of the Public Interest Campaign for Promoting Environment Protection “Don`t Ignore! React!” in North Macedonia of Program Coordinator in the Institute of Communication Studies, North Macedonia.
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