The climate is changing due to changes in nature. Human activities, especially the use of fossil fuels, are the main reasons for the increase of the global temperature and for the increasing rainfall. The use of firewood as a source of heating, is one of the human activities which disturb the natural balance. Particularly worrying is the more frequent unplanned tree cutting, which reduces the forest fund and disables the process of carbon dioxide absorption and air purification. Soil becomes porous and susceptible to erosion from rainfall. The use of firewood as heating source in the households, due to the combustion process, pollutes the air that we all breathe. The air pollution in Skopje produces cumulative adverse effects on climate change. This is primarily due to the urbanization process in the City of Skopje and the extensive energy consumption.
Energy use related climate change affects all citizens. The latest recommendations of the UN Climate Change Conference, held on 11th July 2019 in Bonn, specifically highlight the gender aspect
of addressing climate change, especially the activities and measures which include women. Hence, we will consider one of the specific vulnerable groups, women older than 65, who live alone.
We especially emphasize the economic insecurity of women with low monthly income (less than 12,000 denars). These households are forced to choose charcoal or firewood for heating. Limited monthly income and living conditions determine these households as socially disadvantaged and vulnerable to adverse impacts of energy use related climate change. In Macedonia, low temperatures and cold are expected to pose a bigger problem than high temperatures in the summer periods. Mostly affected are the elderly, especially women who face the challenge of providing a proper home heating, considering the high heating costs, especially because most of their monthly income is spent on energy.
The main source of data is the Survey on Household Heating Practices in the Skopje Valley, conducted in January 2017 (https://www.skopjesezagreva.mk/
), with the support of the UN Development Program. This survey provided data for creating an accurate database, in a fast, inexpensive and innovative way, concerning one of the “main” reasons for the increase of greenhouse gases and local air pollution in Skopje – household heating practices. For the first time a relationship has been determined between climate change and air quality in the city and also innovative solutions were created, which could bring significant decrease in greenhouse gases and local pollutants. The analysis is part of a study “Study on Skopje Heating Practices – Policies and Measures Analysis” which will be part of the Third Biannual Update Report on Climate Change (2020).
Additionally, based on the data a socio-economics analysis
was prepared and the groups were corelated by multiple parameters, first by gender, then age, place of residence (urban vs. rural and house vs. apartment), education, monthly income. Microsoft Power Bi software tool
permitted parameter grouping and defining of specific groups.
Why 65+ women who live alone and have low monthly income?
Women, unlike men, in the Republic of North Macedonia, are more exposed to poverty. At the time of working age, many women are faced with the problem of inequality in earnings - they are less paid by men in the same jobs. They look after their children and often need days off, and due to this it is more difficult for mothers to progress in their career. Traditional attitudes and beliefs that women should take care of home and family are still present. Women's responsibilities for cooking and cleaning at home expose them to major health risks and diseases transmitted through water and burning firewood. Especially women in rural areas are mostly housewives or are working in agriculture, in unpaid agricultural activities.
This is a group of women who, according to their age (65 years old and older), have the right to old age pension, live alone in their home, i.e. they are single, divorced or widowed, and use family pensions with monthly income of up to 12,000 denars.
According to the analysis, they represent 0.89% of all surveyed households, or around 1,460 households (extrapolated with the official data from the State Statistical Office, from the 2002 census).
Age and low level of physical activity, make them more susceptible to negative impacts of climate change. Muscle strain in these women often leads to injuries that are particularly emphasized in winter periods, and they are also prone to viral and bacterial respiratory infections (pneumonia), chronic diseases including arthritis or osteoporosis. Often, due to poor physical activity and the fear of injuries when moving in winter when there is snow, they spend time alone at home. Loneliness increases the possibility of depression, Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. Households are heated for more than 12 hours a day, throughout the week, during working days, weekends and holidays.
The highest percentage of these, 62.22% use firewood as the primary energy source for heating the household.
Method of household heating for women 65+ who live alone
Of those, 28.89% heat the entire home, 26.67% heat up to ¼ of the home and more than half of these households heat the home 12 hours a day. The worrying fact is that those who use firewood as a way of heating the home use old wood stoves and in 85.71% of these households, have wood stoves that are older than 20 years.
How much and for how long do women 65+, who live alone heat the home
Thus, women have long been exposed to the negative effects of burning firewood that has a long-term impact on their health.
According to the traditional family relations, it is assumed that they often need to support and assist in raising their grandchildren. Active participation in care and upbringing of the youngest is noble, but it also brings too many obligations to the "grannies". In this way they neglect themselves and their needs. In situations like this, very often in their homes there are small children. On the other hand, these women are also helped and supported by their children. The health and well-being of women older than 65 years, as a vulnerable group, should be one of the priority groups in the social system.
The insufficient awareness of these households about the harmfulness of using firewood in their homes as a way of heating is one of the factors why these households still use such a heating system at home. But, much more important factor is the lack of funds or economic poverty of these households, so they do not have an option to choose another way of heating the home.
Increased awareness and knowledge about the harmful consequences on their health and physical and psychological development, as well as on the health of children who occasionally stay with them at home, and an appropriate financial relief program, will enable them to change the heating system in their homes.
The women from this group surveyed listed the most important criteria for selection of heating, which are as follows: 46.7% said that it is monthly cost, 26.7% possibility for automatic operation of the heating system, 13.3% investment cost and 13.3% specify other criteria. It is especially interesting that if they disregard the installation cost for the equipment and the monthly expense, most of these households would choose a boiler on wood (42.2%). However, 26.7% do not know what they would choose.
Criteria for choosing the heating method for women 65+ who live alone
Out of the surveyed housewives, 91.3% use firewood for cooking, and 8.7% use LPG for preparing meals.
Do women 65+ who live alone use only electricity for cooking at home
The focus on safety measures and recommendations that would reduce the use of firewood as a source of heat, would be a major step towards reducing the negative impacts of climate change.
How to change?
The changes for this group will arise from the implementation of the activities and measures from STURGES and Skopje breathes which were prepared in 2017.
Women aged 65 years and over, living alone, defined as vulnerable and financially powerless, should be included as a priority group in the application of the proposed measures. Pollution mitigation measures for the City of Skopje should provide professional and financial assistance to these households to make it easier for them to change the heating method or offer the possibility to replace firewood stoves with newer and more energy efficient ones.
* changing the heating method, replacing the fossil fuels (primarily firewood) with alternative environmentally friendly sources of energy,
* completely abandoning coal as a source of heating energy for homes is foreseen;
* possibility for connection to the central heating system.
Some measures are related to improving the insulation of houses and buildings. Also, introducing appropriate solutions for using solar energy is a way of providing hot sanitary water in households.
* Change and reconstruction of thermally inefficient facades and thermally uninsulated roofs and applying appropriate solutions for the utilization of solar energy.
The best scenario is the proposed measures to cover all households in this group, regardless of the municipality they belong to.
In this way, the living conditions of these households will be improved and the exposure to climate change will be reduced.