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Peter Robl: Forgotten human misery of our neglected buildings

The crumbling legacy of misguided 20th century housing policies casts a towering shadow over every major town in the Visegrád Four. Town after town. City after city. Country after country. Despite the economic growth observed in many CEE countries during the last decade, the vast majority of residential buildings in this part of Europe is in desperate need of renovation.

We simply take neglect for granted and forget that there are millions of lives trapped behind all that cheap concrete and peeling paint.

We forget the sickening misery of freezing apartments in winter and suffocating rooms in summer. We forget the distress of no money to pay bills and the despair of low-income poor health. That is the reason why more than 25 experts from Visegrád countries joined forces at the recent Central and Eastern Energy Efficiency Forum (C4E) to demand immediate and concerted action from their governments.

The human cost of poor housing is clear from official statistics. In Slovakia, for example, people pay the highest energy bills per income in the European Union and there are 3,000 premature deaths annually due to air pollution caused by heating with solid fuels1. Those living in unsatisfactory housing conditions suffer from up to 2.9 times more frequent health issues than others in their country2.

Across Visegrád, two-thirds of residential buildings need renovating. And for those who consider lives in financial terms — those buildings are costing society up to €11.2 billion in health care every year 3.

Yet, Visegrád Governments have an historic opportunity to create housing renovation policies that really deliver. At the C4E, experts from Buildings for the Future in Slovakia, the Hungarian Energy Efficiency Institute, Chance for Buildings in the Czech Republic and Poland’s National Energy Efficiency Agency called on governments to maximise the opportunities for change presented by negotiations surrounding the new multiannual European Union budget and the implementation of revised EU directives promoting energy efficiency.

All Member States must transpose the Energy Efficiency Directive and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and reveal how they will achieve national energy savings targets. Improving buildings to make them energy efficient will accelerate progress to achieve these targets and help the most vulnerable in society.

The Visegrád experts agree the broad strokes are these:

We can no longer afford to ignore the misery of people caged in appalling housing. Every time we pass another collective of blocks must be a reminder that we can do better. Must do better. Together.

As Public Affairs Manager for Knauf Insulation in Slovakia, Peter Robl advocates for public policies promoting energy efficient and sustainable buildings. Peter initiated the Building for the Future alliance back in 2013 and has since developed it into the leading voice of the construction industry in the public debate, representing more than 150 companies with aggregated Net Sales of EUR 1.7 bn.

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