SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Rampant air pollution and the emigration of young, skilled professionals pose the most serious threats North Macedonia faces, the small Balkan country's president said.
Stevo Pendarovski said Wednesday that he would call an urgent meeting of government officials and environmental groups to address air pollution, which is estimated to kill about 3,000 people annually in North Macedonia.
In an annual address to lawmakers, Pendarovski said the situation “seriously undermines our nation's potential.”
North Macedonia has some of the highest levels of air pollution in Europe, mostly due to heavy use of household wood-burning stoves in the chilly winters, an old fleet of cars and the practice by some garbage disposal companies of disposal by incineration.
In recent months, airborne particles in the capital Skopje and other cities have been recorded as exceeding safety levels by up to 20 times.
Environmental groups have held weekly protests, in a bid to force action from the center-left government.
Pendarovski called for higher budget funding for environmental protection.
He also described persistent emigration as a second major threat to North Macedonia's “security and future.”
According to World Bank estimations, about one quarter of North Macedonia’s 2.1 million people have left the country over the past decade.