In the past three months, the “Balkans United for Clean Air” campaign has helped gather a network of more than 520 organizations, individuals, and experts, with the goal of informing Western Balkans citizens about air pollution’s causes, consequences, and possible solutions which could improve air quality.
With this campaign, they intended to point out the fact that all of us from the Western Balkans have sufficient potential, knowledge, and capacity to work together in the spirit of solidarity, so as to solve the problem of air pollution.
The government and local self-governments are legally obligated to monitor air pollution, inform the citizens on the results and create plans and implement improvement measures when the permitted ceilings are exceeded. Despite significant advancements that took place since the establishment of the air quality monitoring stations and the systems which keep the public informed in the region’s states, the quality and amount of data have not reached satisfactory levels, and the official results need to be much more available and clear.
If it weren’t for the popular websites and mobile applications that provide real-time data from the majority of stations in the world, the inhabitants of many cities would have to rely on local institution websites’ information. Those are still often belated and the data is not presented in an easily understandable manner.
Furthermore, many areas including urban ones, are yet to be covered by monitoring stations or still lack measurements of all the relevant pollutants. The inhabitants of sparsely populated areas and people without access to the internet are mostly kept in the dark. If they received information on outdoor, i.e. ambient air pollution reaching dangerous levels, they could limit their outdoor activities and keep their windows closed until the situation improves, as is recommended in such situations.
Citizens have the right to be informed about the air pollution levels and be notified of any change that occurs. Local and state institutions must inform the citizens in a timely manner, similar to when the water quality drops in the supply system, or when the concentration of allergens in the air or the solar ultraviolet radiation increase.
The necessity of breathing clean and healthy air has united us in our solidarity-based struggle within the “Balkans United for Clean Air” campaign, which was initiated by the European Fund for the Balkans, in partnership with the organizations Right to the City, Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI), Belgrade Open School (BOŠ) (Belgrade, Serbia); Environmental and Territorial Management Institute (Tirana, Albania); Ekoforum (Zenica, BiH), Centre for Ecology and Energy (Tuzla, BiH); Sbunker (Pristina, Kosovo); Air Care (Skopje, North Macedonia), and OZON (Podgorica, Montenegro).
In cooperation with the region’s exports, they have dealt with topics including air pollution and its consequences on citizens’ mortality and health; its impact on fertility rate; air pollution caused by the large polluters and the industry; air pollution in correlation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from informing citizens, they wanted to build connections between regional organizations and activists and send a message that we all want to breathe clean air and that the struggle to that end is one based on unity and solidarity.
The campaign was joined by more than 520 individuals and organizations and activists from the entire region. Furthermore, content, articles, and messages have reached more than 650,000 people in the Western Balkans via social media alone, while the traditional media have published more than 500 articles, announcements, interviews.
The struggle for clean air continues. The organization will maintain efforts to raise the citizens’ knowledge on this issue, as well as advocate for solutions, in order to reduce air pollution and improve the quality of life in the Western Balkans.
“We, the citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia, are equally exposed to airborne harmful substances, regardless of age, sex, religion, national affiliation and the language we speak. “
They added that by “building on our achieved results, we, the organizations that have run the regional campaign “Balkans United for Clean Air”, have decided to take our campaign to the next level by transforming it into a regional network. As was the campaign, so will the network remain open to all organizations committed to this solidarity-based struggle for clean and healthy air for all of us.”