Young people in Kosovo* develop skills to combat outdoor air pollution. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution, especially in winter when air pollution increases and immune systems are weakened.
At a time when Kosovars get out their fluffy winter coats, another kind of fluffiness makes its way into the Kosovar sky – black clouds. This points to one thing only: outdoor air pollution is skyrocketing!
Demjana Hasani, 18, from Ferizaj (one of the six largest cities in Kosovo), has often seen fields or the forest in her hometown burning. But she never really knew what the burning could lead to.
On 23 September, she joined a three-day workshop supported by UNICEF, where young people from Ferizaj learnt more about air pollution and the dangers of carbon emissions resulting from fossil fuel use.
Air pollution in Kosovo
For several years now, air pollution in Kosovo has become an increasing health hazard, with domestic heating, road transport, energy production, industrial processes, and municipal and agricultural waste the main culprits.
However, like in other parts of the world, decision-makers are not giving this issue enough attention. While there are ongoing efforts by the authorities to address air pollution, which can cause respiratory diseases, stroke, lung cancer and mental health issues, more needs to be done throughout the Western Balkans to raise awareness of its dangers and find sustainable solutions.
UNICEF in Kosovo is working with those affected by air pollution but who also have the innovative spirit to do something about it: young people. Over 40 per cent of Kosovo’s population is young.
Climate change science training
UNICEF's innovation funding initiative in the Western Balkans raises awareness of air pollution and its harmful effects on the health and well-being of children and young people. It empowers young people to raise awareness and develop innovative solutions to air pollution in their communities. Additionally, the initiative promotes the innovative use of public data and supports local governments in raising awareness and promoting skills development on air pollution mitigation.
In Kosovo, UNICEF has taken its first steps in this direction – by educating young people through its climate change science training, a programme that Demjana joined.
"It seemed attractive and worthwhile for me. It was a completely new experience,” says Demjana, who is studying law at the University of Pristina. As a future lawyer, Demjana says she is aware that air pollution is a very serious matter, indiscriminately affecting everyone, and that legal and sustainable solutions must be created to tackle it.
“The training from UNICEF has taught us how to think differently, so we can turn our ideas into concrete actions and solve problems,” says Demjana. The project, she and her friends from Ferizaj, developed was to stop the local burning of forests and fields. “The idea is to raise awareness about the consequences of fires on air quality with a documentary that will feature the city’s vicinity,” says Demjana.
Using media as a tool to raise awareness is one of UNICEF's training modules.
Through these modules, local youth organizations in different cities in Kosovo will help other young people develop their ‘green skills,’ increasing their respect for the environment, their understanding of climate change, and learning how to mitigate its negative impacts.
Engaging and empowering adolescent girls and boys to advocate for change is another goal of the initiative. It provides young people with all the resources needed to advocate for better policies, plans, budgets and processes on air pollution. It also provides opportunities for adolescents to work concretely at the local level, within their communities.
UNICEF’s vision is for children and adolescents in the Western Balkans to become more aware of air pollution and to have the knowledge and skills to influence decision-makers and bring about positive changes in their communities. Harnessing the power, enthusiasm and innovation of young people will help ensure that children’s health and future are at the center of discussions for policies, budgets and programmes in Kosovo and beyond.
*all references to Kosovo shall be understood under UNSCR1244