North Macedonia, located in the center of the Balkan Peninsula, has more than two million inhabitants.
It is one of the countries most affected by air pollution; the premature death rate is higher than in most states of the European Union.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers air pollution a “public health emergency” linked to 8.8 million premature deaths each year. This is the greatest environmental health risk in Europe.
Air pollution in North Macedonia can be attributed to emissions from industries of the former Yugoslav socialist era, poorly regulated vehicles, outdoor waste burning and home heating.
Each year, 2,574 people die prematurely as a direct result of air pollution, according to the EU Research Results website.
The WHO Ambient Air Pollution Database for 2018 ranks the capital Skopje, with around 600,000 inhabitants, as the most polluted capital in Europe.
Air pollution can cause, in addition to health problems, psychological effects such as depression.
Low winter temperatures worsen the situation, due to the increased demand for heating.
The mayor of Skopje, Petre Shilegov, confirmed that around 60,000 households use poor quality wood and charcoal for heating, according to the local Makfax news agency.
Some burn textiles, plastics and waste to heat their homes, due to the lack of gas supply and the high cost of electricity.
The average income is around 260 euros per month and fuel poverty is rampant in Skopje.
Another factor contributing to air pollution is North Macedonia’s natural position: much of the country is located in a valley surrounded by mountains that trap fog.