July 6, 2018 | Friday

Our environment, your responsibility


When the city infrastructure fundamentals were planned and developed during the Yugoslavian days, it was not envisioned that the population of Pristina would grow this rapidly to the proportions we have today and neither that there will be massive fluctuations of commuters. Even when there was an administration and system transformation following the post-war era, the city urban planning and development suffered major setbacks caused by stern mismanagement and multiple scandals. And although there have been signs of improvement in the last few years, we are still in a very delicate position. The everyday life in Pristina reflects an urban chaos consisting of an outstanding number of vehicles inside the city, an ever-growing number of housing projects, a decrease of green spaces and ever-increasing environmental pollution. The current urban set-up and infrastructure capacities within the city are overwhelmed by the dynamics of the residents and this is often transformed into major environmental problems. Today, Pristina is faced with problems of air pollution, waste management, sewage systems and water efficiency amongst others. If this is translated into the everyday effects that can be witnessed while living in the city it can be showcased as follows: during winter you are constantly breathing polluted air which impacts your health terribly, during summer you can witness shortages of water because of improper usage and conservation of water, after episodes of rainstorms the streets will be flooded by both rain and wastewater causing health threats, during most of your commutes you will be subjected to dust and vehicle fumes, and throughout the year you will walk through trash in your neighbourhood, in your way to school, work and almost anywhere.

There are four things that need to be stressed while acknowledging the actual situation: first, that the state remedies towards addressing key environmental threats take a very long time; second, that the environment is usually one of the last items in the priority and funding list of state institutions and potential donors alike; third, that while a very long time is needed to improve the environmental situation you will still suffer the consequences every day for that exact long time; and fourth, that the situation will most likely get worse before it starts to get better.

Most of the time we are prone to continue our everyday life and ignore these seemingly small problems in our busy agendas. However, it is very unfortunate that we truly understand the seriousness of these environmental threats only when we are directly affected by them and at that time it is already too late because we will be carrying the consequences. You can ignore air pollution throughout the year until you catch a cough and a flu during winter, you may again forget it during spring when your immune system is improving, but you will very likely be subjected to suffer the same consequence next winter unless the situation improves. You will ignore the trash that you see as you walk by, you may even throw your own trash in random places, but you will get very furious when you see a pile of trash thrown at your own home. You will encounter numerous situations that showcase environmental pollution in one form or another, but the reaction is timed usually only when the consequence is made.

In the big picture, the small pollution has a tendency to grow into a large problem overtime, and as such it must be addressed immediately when the problem is identified. So even though it may not be your fault that a certain pollutant is persisting, even though it is not your job to address such issues, even though you think this is someone else’s problem, in the end it may very well be your problem.

Pristina displays a very slow economic development rate, the state capacities to tackle environmental issues are very low and the environment is not the priority of state policies in addition to the lack of implementation of laws. Therefore, you may be in fact the only starting point towards improving the environment you live in. It is a burden that has been granted to you unwillingly… or is it?

Let’s look in perspective towards some of the environmental issues that have been mentioned. Who do you think causes all this pollution? Everyone who resides in Pristina, including you. Air pollution is affected by the coal you may have burned during winter and the car that you drive, water scarcity may be a consequence of you taking water for granted and using it loosely, and sometimes trash in the streets might be something that you have contributed to at some point. Now, I am in no way trying to thumb down the problem at you as the key source, but I want you to understand that all of us who live here, contribute to the pollution problem in one way or another and share responsibilities for these issues.

So what can we do as residents?

There are two paths that need to be taken into account simultaneously when addressing environmental concerns. The first one is to start shifting our own habits. Shifting one’s habits might be perceived as a big sacrifice or a high price to pay for our comfort, but let’s look at this more critically. These habits affect us very little compared to the impact it has on our environment. For example: picking out trash on the area where you reside and dumping it in garbage bins, takes you a few minutes every few days, in comparison to weeks and months of large surfaces that may be covered in garbage; closing water taps when you are not using water (during period on the shower when you are using soap, when you are adding detergent to your dishes, when you are brushing your teeth etc.) costs you seconds during a few times during the day, in comparison to thousands of liters spend from a joint reservoir (say Batlava) where everyone needs to get drinking water from; walking to work or almost anywhere in the city, can cost you 15 to 25 minutes extra time, as compared to the devastating amount of fumes you would release traveling by car, also in addition it will benefit your health and help improve overall city public transport. Therefore, minor changes in our habits have huge impact on the environment and basically directly in the lives of the other residents of Pristina too.

The second path is to report environmental pollution immediately, and monitor whether actions are being implemented to address such issues. Knowing the low capacities of state institutions to tackle environmental problems, you must understand that most of the environmental concerns will not be addressed at all. Only through reporting and community mobilization (share the problem with your friends, neighbours and anybody else) can this problem be prioritized, and then if this cycle is used for the majority of environmental problems it will help address them at a higher number. For example: wastewater going out in the surface in different areas of the city is a problem you may frequently see; however, you will see it for a long time unless it is reported. And if the issue reported, is not being addressed (the monitoring part comes in here) you can always contact the media to emphasize this issue in the public – and somehow when in the spotlight, there is a magical tendency for action from state institution. Therefore, always report environmental problems straight away, and follow through until the issue has been properly addressed.

If seen from this bigger perspective, the improvement of the environment in Pristina is in a way the task of the residents themselves. And, seeing how we are growing in number everyday bringing with us a baggage of new environmental pollutants, let’s take responsibility for our actions and make the best out of it as a community. After all, we are living here and whether we want to or not, we will wake up every day and face plenty of environmental problems which we can address together.