About Life in Krakow,Life abroad

Smog Wawelski – smoggy sights in Krakow (part 1)

[Original Version: GERMAN]

It’s this time of the year again:  I wake up in the mornings feeling a little chilly, and  have a first look out of the window, only to ask myself, frowning: “Is this fog – or is this smog?”

Krakow is a beautiful city and I would say it is a very livable city, no objections to that; until autumn brings – depending on the temperatures sooner or later – the heating season. This is paired with some meteoric phenomenon I will not be able to explain, but which undermines any kind of air exchange between the Krakow valley and its surroundings. The city drowns in a fog of thick, smelly, yellowish-grey smog which buries even the towers of the famous Mariacki church.

Krakow is far from being the only city with dirty air in Poland. A report published by the World Health organization came to the conclusion that Poland has the dirtiest air  within the European Union. In the European ranking (including non-EU states) Krakow as a city is even on the top list: only the air in cities in Macedonia and in Bosnia & Herzegovina is even dirtier.

Smog Wawelski – sadly not a legend

In Krakow legends are built around the “smok wawelski”, the dragon of the Wawel which is the fire breathing mascot of the city. “Smok” in Polish means “dragon”. This obviously invites for ironic puns. An information portal on the air pollution in Krakow uses those puns: “No legends, but facts about the smog wawelski” (www.smogwawelski.pl).

The dragon whoms portrayal breathes fire in front of the Krakow castle at the foot of the Wawel mountain nowadays, appeared – according to the legend – at some point out of nowhere and demanded virgins for breakfast until a smart boy managed to trick him into drowning. Celebrations included a royal wedding, everyone was extremly happy and the life expectancy of virgins sky-rocketed again. But what about the Smog? The smog does not come just like that out of nowhere, however it does decrease the lifespan of Cracovians  since years. It would not need any extraordinary tricks to get rid of it, but instead ambitious and progressive environmental politicis to bring fresh wind into the city. So, the question is: where does the bad air come from and is nothing done against it?

I will search for explanations and answers in three articles which will talk about the usage of coal in private households, the rapid increase of (big!) cars and the Polish industry.

Black gold? 

80% of all private households in the European Union which still heat their houses with brown coal, are located in Poland. Despite several different programmes in Krakow to exchange coal ovens for modern heating technology, there are still around 20.000 coal ovens in the city which is inhabited by 750.000 to 1 Mio people. The demand for coal becomes obvious if one passes a pile of coal in the wintery streets of the city. Usually the coal is sold out within minutes. Those piles are meant to disappear, however, together with coal ovens all together in Krakow. Anyhow have prices for coal increased quite dramatically in recent years, not least because the industry registers less and less investment in their dirty business.

In some households this has the consequence that whatever is at hand will be burned: Paper, wood, trash. “Obstinacy” say some, or patriotism to stay independent of Russian gas. Many households simply lack the financial means to suddenly refurbish their property and switch to another way of heating.

But what about the state? 

Financial support should be guaranteed through the national programm “Clean air” (czyste powietrze), at least for the owners of one family houses. Additionally, there are consultative meetings offered at the webpage of the ministry for environment. But all in all the page tells rather little about the programme, it features mostly promotional events with prime minister Morawiecki. Nobody seems to really know where to take the money from – and when. “Clean air” as a PR-gag to create – also abroad – positive headlines? At least in late summer that seemed to be a common accusation from media comments. “The government uses the long weekend, to protect the smog from the Poles.”, “The new norms for the quality of coal a scam?” and “Tchórzewski throws it in the oven. The minister of energy cares about miners and not about clean air.” Mid-September the programme was officially presented and the question remains: Where does the money come from? Nationwide media presented little.

Connected to the environmental plans of the government a new regulation on the quality of coal was decided. This amendment, which carries a strong fingerprint of the coal lobby, speaks a.o. about “ecological coal”. Brown coal in the oven – the most Eco way to heat? Take that, European Greens!

But back to Krakow. The advertisement for clean air is prominent in the city. High flags line the Rynek. Marshall of the region Malopolska, Jacek Krupa, reacted upset to the new regulations on coal and clean air. The programme would not allow a realistic chance for better air. In the region the Malopolska government with the support of EU funds in air purifiers for all kindergardens and in educational programmes. On the other hand is the mayor of Krakow city known for his “passion” to cut down trees and park stripes in the city to give room for expansive apartment construction (which is often not affordable for the average Cracovian btw, but this is another story!). Will the national and regional programmes lead to uncover the Smok Wawelski, the dragon, from dirty wafts of smog? It will be important that the topic is taken seriously on all levels – in Malopolska at least the internet presence appears to be more convincing than on the national level.

But despite all the anti-coal initiatives: it states on their pages that private coal usage is only one aspect leaving to the massive pollution in Krakow. Whoever is brave enough to stand by one of the many arterial roads in Krakow sees and smells how dirty smoke comes from between masses of cars which clog the streets, bumper on bumper. Is anything done about this? More about this question will follow in a few days!

Warning signs in the city: “Air quality index: sufficient. Limit the time spent outside, especially if troubled with coughing or irritated throat.”

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