Air pollution is one of the most common problems affecting communities around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data on air quality shows that low-income cities are affected most. At the same time, the data reveal that WHO air quality standards are not met in 97 per cent of low- and middle-income countries, while the percentage decreases significantly in high-income countries.
Particularly in Europe the emission of atmospheric pollutants has visibly decreased in the last decades, however a significant proportion of the European population lives in cities where air quality standards are exceeded.
The case of Skopje
The WHO maintains that especially the countries of the Balkans is the most polluted region in Europe. Emissions from industrial installations, smoke from the wood-burning stoves at home, toxic gases emitted by old car models and citizens, who love to burn their rubbish, have been the main causes of pollution.
In January the government of the Republic of Northern Macedonia reached a critical point, as the PM10 and PM2.5 toxic air particles in Skopje exceeded the permitted limits by more than 10 times. PM2.5 particles especially cause misty air and contribute to respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Undoubtedly an intelligent measure
Policy-makers have found a technological solution that is currently being implemented. Technology developers have launched the mobile phone application MojVozduh or My Air App to map pollution levels from open source data.
The application presents environmental data from more than 40 stations with 100 sensors distributed throughout the city, of which 18 are managed by the government measurement center and other independent sensors operated by volunteers, universities and local municipalities. The Macedonian government can also make use of micro-level data, for example on how people heat their homes and what factors influence fuel choices.
Fortunately the availability of data enables damage mitigation measures to be more accurate and efficient:
- Plan of subsidy and distribution of face masks with air filter for the most vulnerable citizens.
- Extended winter break for students to avoid as much exposure to air pollution as possible.
- Introduction of free public transport and increased parking rates to avoid the use of private vehicles.
- Launch of drones equipped with thermographic beds to identify and control compliance with pre-established regulations for industries.
I believe that the initiative of using open data is extremely positive, since it allows the exchange of data of citizens, the public and private sectors. My Air App allows citizens to be more aware of pollution levels, to act on consequence and gives governments more accurate informations that help establish the most efficient and intelligent alternatives. While pollution has not disappeared and still represents a significant level in Northern Macedonia, the contribution of stakeholders through open source helps to protect people’s health and the environment.