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Accra Air Quality Project

Accra Air Quality Platform – monitoring urban air quality and promoting health

A growing problem of ecological health importance in developing countries, such as Ghana, is air pollution. World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates air pollution leads to 6.5 million deaths globally. About 88% of premature deaths, due to air pollution, in 2012 occurred in LMICs (WHO 2014). Poor air quality is an important contributor to the global burden of disease, implicated in respiratory conditions, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

While statistics on mortality and morbidity due to air pollution in Ghana is sparse, research shows that it is mostly caused by vehicular emissions, construction and solid fuel combustion. Here, the prime pollutants of urban health concern are Particulate Matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked Ghana 133 (out of 178) with a score of 69.72 (out of 100) in terms of air quality in 2014. Figure 1 shows how Ghana compares with her immediate neighbours in terms of air quality. The horizontal axis represents GDP per capita and bubble size indicates relative size of population.

Figure 1: Comparison of Ghana’s Air Quality Score with its West African neighbours (chart generated using http://epi.yale.edu/epi/data-explorer)

Growing urban population coupled increased consumerism culture suggests that air quality issues in Accra may worsen. However, the infrastructure, systems, and processes for urban air quality monitoring and management seem to be very weak. Common challenges faced across the West African sub-region in this endeavour include lack of awareness with respect to severity of urban air pollution, low technical capacity, limiting financial resources. The foregoing factors are crowned by lack of political will to pursue urban air quality monitoring on a large scale.

Verifiable air quality information is either non-existent or inaccessible to the over four million residents of Accra. This exacerbates the risk faced by vulnerable groups such as old people, asthmatics, children, and people of low socioeconomic status. These groups, and indeed the general population, need air quality information, in both spatial and temporal terms, to plan their travel routes and amount of time spent outdoors.

However, it is possible to leverage increasing improvements in open source hardware, sensor technology, open data, and civic organisation to build a citizen science air quality network. This will involve collecting mobile air quality data using personalised exposure monitoring (PEM) devices, aggregating and analysing the data, and publishing it through widely accessible platforms. Through this initiative, a framework of interdisciplinary collaboration could be developed for civic participatory problem-solving in African cities. The aim of the Accra Air Quality Platform (AAQP) project is to develop a viable local air quality monitoring system using a citizen science approach.

The specific objectives of AAQP are to:

    • Design and develop fixed and mobile open source air quality monitors to measure key pollutants such as PM2.5, PM10, and NO2.
    • Build the capacity of Global Lab members in citizen science-based air quality monitoring  
    • Establish a pilot air quality network

 

  • Document lessons learnt to improve the project, and establish good practices for similar initiatives in other cities or addressing different environmental health challenges

 

Methods

  1. Design of open source PEM

The PEM is envisaged to be based on open source architecture. The design and accompanying protocols will be freely available to all project collaborators. These devices should ideally be:

    • Based on open source hardware such as Arduino microcontrollers
    • Equipped with appropriate sensors as well a wireless data transmission system (via mobile network or internet)
    • Capable of determining the location of the user and linking AQ readings to GPS coordinates and time

*Due to the rapid advances in this field in the past couple of years, it is likely that such a monitor already exists. The team’s efforts may then be focused on learning how to replicate available models or partnering with their innovators for knowledge transfer

**We will start with fixed monitors and later incorporate mobile monitors aka personalised exposure monitors (PEMs)