PRISTINA, Kosovo -- The European Union is investing more than 80 million euros ($89 million) to improve the air quality in Kosovo, whose capital of Pristina is choking from pollution by coal-based power plants, coal and wood heating in homes and old vehicles on the roads.
Luigi Brusa of the European Union office in Kosovo on Friday said during the last few days the air in Pristina was like that of Beijing, considered one of the most polluted cities in the world.
The U.S. embassy's air quality monitor has shown PM2.5 pollution levels higher than 50, considered the maximum level accepted, rising up to 213 on Sunday.
School children on Friday wore masks when walking to schools in the foggy capital.
To highlight the problems, air masks were also put on statutes of Mother Teresa and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Nysrete Doda, a Pristina resident walking her child to school, said even the air in her home was bad because she had forgotten to close a window overnight.
“It is better that children and old people do not go out of home, but they (children) have to,” she complained.
Smoke from the Kosova B power plant in Obiliq, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Pristina create a regular cloud over the capital.
Brussels has signed a contract with Kosovo authorities to invest 76 million euro ($83 million) to refurbish the plant, starting in May next year, to reduce the dust it produces, according to Brusa.
The EU is also investing 7 million euros ($7.6 million) to increase the capacity of the central Termokos heating system for 2,000 more households, or about 10,000 residents, including schools and kindergartens.
Outgoing Environment Minister Fatmir Matoshi says public institutions do not use coal for heating anymore and giving coal sacks to power corporation employees as a reward has stopped.
“We ask people for help because every citizen, especially in Pristina, should avoid using cars and heating with coal (now), so that we have better air,” he said.