Air Quality Awareness Week 2021: A glimpse at AirQo’s excellent efforts to reduce air pollution

On 3rd May 2021, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), AirQo of Makerere University join the public in collaboration with the US mission to celebrate the 15th annual Air Quality Awareness Week 2021 (AQWA). This year’s theme is ‘Healthy air – Important for everyone’.

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Air Quality Awareness Week 2021 emphasizes the need for more awareness

The Air Quality Awareness Week 2021 is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution on human health, economies, and the environment as well as actions people can take to reduce health risks.

Due to the devastating effects of air pollution, it is important to know the extent of air pollution and devise appropriate actions to improve the air quality in Uganda. Makerere University through the AirQo initiative relies on technology to develop a wide network of low-cost monitoring devices that continuously provide data on the extent of air pollution in major cities in Uganda.

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Founded in 2015, AirQo at Makerere University aims at closing the gaps in air quality data in Uganda and across Sub-Saharan Africa. It uses artificial intelligence to gain insights from the data it collects and shares them in real time through data sharing platforms. It also collaborates with partners and stakeholders to educate air pollution reduction efforts and increase public concern about the consequences.

Through developing low-cost air quality monitoring devices, AirQo can ably provide evidence about the magnitude and scale of air pollution in the country.

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Currently, the air quality in Uganda is considered unsafe. The most recent data indicates that the current concentration of particulate matter is above the recommended according to World Health Organization guidelines. This emphasizes the need to avail the public with information making them more aware of the current situation and its dire consequences.

Without air quality data, it is very difficult to raise awareness of the emerging issues, and for the government, businesses and individuals to know which actions to take to improve air quality and protect public health. Hence, there is a need for enhanced sectoral monitoring to know what the dominant sources of air pollution are.

In order to raise public awareness, AirQo has developed a number of products and provides several services. Some of these services include building low-cost air quality monitors. These monitors are locally and uniquely designed to work in settings associated with extreme weather and environmental conditions such as dust, heat, unreliable power, and limited internet connectivity, typical in a sub-Saharan African setting.

It has also deployed air quality monitors across urban areas. A growing network of over 80 devices has been deployed across Uganda. It uses the latest cloud-based technology to store, manage and interpret large quantities of air quality data showing both the spatial and temporal behavior of air pollution.

In order to increase its coverage as it monitors air quality, AirQo has also placed devices on ‘boda-bodas’. This is because of the boda-bodas’ ability to go almost anywhere, including along off-road tracks and through informal settlements.

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Through machine learning and artificial intelligence to ensure accuracy of devices, predict pollution levels in areas where we don’t have sensors, make local forecasts and troubleshoot errors, AirQo is able to model air quality.

The public can access data about the air quality of various locations easily through the AirQo app. With the app, a user is able to¬†access historical, real-time and forecast air quality data in preferred locations. And that’s not all, with this great application, a user can also personalize their experience by saving their interested locations so they can easily view their air quality information.

It is available on the App store and Google PlayStore.

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