In a bid to address the challenges of air pollution in Kampala and other African cities, AirQo, a research initiative from Makerere University was yesterday officially launched to focus on collecting, analysing and forecasting air quality data in Uganda, and most importantly working with other stakeholders to inform mitigation actions.
This is the first local air quality monitoring research initiative in Uganda and by far the biggest in Africa.
While launching the Research Initiative Project in Kampala, the Project Lead Prof. Engineer Bainomugisha noted that lack of air quality data to quantify the magnitude and scale of air pollution levels is a big challenge in Uganda and across the African continent.
“We believe that the first step in being able to improve air quality is to be able to measure it, know what the current air pollution levels are, its causes and importantly its consequences to our health and the environment.
“The AirQo project fills in this gap by creating low-cost air pollution monitoring devices designed to work in the unique contexts of African cities,” said Bainomugisha.
He added that the AirQo project has a growing network of over 65 air quality monitors in Uganda that are using cloud-based technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence to collect, analyse, predict and raise awareness about the issue of air quality across the country.
”In addition to the sensors, the AirQo mobile App, ensures that Ugandans can access air quality data in real-time using smart mobile phones,” said Prof. Bainomugisha.
Statistics from the World Health Organisation indicate that 7 million people across the world die each year prematurely due to exposure to high levels of air pollution both outdoors and indoors and air pollution is one of the two leading risk factors of global mortality.
Also, recent reports have ranked Kampala City as one of the cities with the most polluted air in East, Central and Southern Africa, although this has been largely informed by very limited data to provide a more representative narrative.
Uganda’s Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Judith Nabakooba who was the chief guest congratulated the implementers of AirQo for their achievement and further appreciated all the partners that have participated in the initiation and the realization of the project.
”Environmental protection is one of the greatest challenges of our times and its adverse effects undermine the ability of countries to achieve sustainable and equitable national development.
“Increases in air pollution, global temperature, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and other climate changes have adverse effects on food security, diseases incidences and other support systems, however, the widespread use of ICTs has great potential to accelerate the development of scientific and technological innovation for environmental protection.
“ Relatedly the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development adopted by all UN members in 2015 recognises ICT as a key tool for environmental protection under the SDG 13 which calls for taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” said Nabakooba.
Lack of air quality data in African cities limits awareness of the scale of the problem and prevents informed decision making.
This means that individuals and governments have minimal awareness of the magnitude of pollution levels and what actions can be taken to mitigate it.
Up until 2016, Uganda had only one air quality monitor owned by the US Embassy Kampala, measuring PM2.5 particulates as an indication of the air quality around its surroundings.
Prof. Tonny Oyana, Principal College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University commended AirQo for its tremendous work in using air quality data to inform policy and for its addition to the College’s innovation drive.
He thanked the team for its contribution to the latest edition of the State of the National Environment where air quality is included for the first time.
In May 2019, AirQo Research Initiative from Makerere University was announced as one of the 20 winners of the Google AI Impact Challenge selected from over 2600 applicants and received a grant of $1.3m.
“With a grant from Google to support the AirQo project, we are super excited about the excellent progress, creating baseline data, link to health outcomes and developing the gold standard in the region and beyond. The key question is how to protect these gains and become sustainable when google funding comes to an end,” said Oyana.
“ The government supports the transformation of urban centres into smart living communities empowered by digital technologies, such as e-services from the government and private sector. In fact, the AirQo project fits in the smart city interventions for a smart environment,” added Nabakooba.
The air monitoring devices can be installed across the city at static locations in schools, neighbourhoods, streets and buildings. They can also be installed on mobile objects such as boda-bodas.