In a bid to address the challenges of air pollution in Kampala and other African cities, AirQo, a research initiative from Makerere University has officially been launched today.
The research initiative is focused on collecting, analysing and forecasting air quality data in Uganda, as well as 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.
Speaking at the official launch of the Research Initiative Project at Sheraton Hotel Kampala, Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Hon Judith Nabakooba emphasized the importance of using ICT to address environmental degradation.
”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 protections,” she said.
Speaking at the same event, The Project Lead Prof. Eng. Bainomugisha noted that lack of air quality data to quantify the magnitude and scale of air pollution levels is a big challenge in Uganda andthe 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 more importantly it’s 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,” he said.
The AirQo project has a growing network of over 65 air quality monitors in Uganda, of which 40 are in Kampala city while 25 others are in districts like kabale Budibujo, Mityana, Masaka among others 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” Prof. Bainomugisha said.
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.
“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,” he added.
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.
In May 2019, the 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,” he said
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.