Air pollution beyond safe limits in Nairobi’s informal settlements, finds study

Written by Sarah Odera

Monday, 15 February 2016 11:15

SEI 2016 News AirPollutionNairobi Flickr 3290008063 5bdb159637 o 350x175Trash is being burned at an informal dump site beside an informal settlement built alongside the polluted Nairobi River. Photo credit: The Advocacy Project / Flickr

The concentrations of harmful particles from burning wood and charcoal as well as from vehicles and industrial plants in the informal settlements of Nairobi are much higher than the World Health Organization recommendations for a healthy environment for human beings, says a new SEI study.

SEI 2016 News AirPollutionNairobi DylosMeasurment 175xA member of the Mukuru community carrying the Dylos on her back to measure air pollutants on her way to work.These findings emerged from a pilot study on the citizen science and air pollution monitoring project (CSAP) carried out by SEI in the Mukuru and Viwandani informal settlements in Nairobi, in collaboration with Muungano, a community organization operating in informal settlements.

“Air pollution from indoor and outdoor sources remains a major environmental and health issue, and a policy challenge in both developed and developing countries. The challenge is more severe in urban areas such as Nairobi, where particulate matter (the air pollutant of primary concern for human health) has huge negative impacts on the health of marginalized communities,” said Philip Osano, SEI Research Fellow and co-leader of the CSAP project.

The findings of the study were presented at a workshop in December last year at the World Agrofrestry Centre (ICRAF), with over 50 participants from government, the research community, international organizations and community members.

SEI 2016 News AirPollutionNairobi CSAPworkshop 350xGroup photo of participants at the CSAP workshop.

Speaking at the event, Stacey Noel, SEI Africa Centre Director, said, “This project has been a seed for growth for SEI Africa and has served as a platform to strengthen and forge partnerships with key international, national and local stakeholders involved in urban issues in the region (UN-Habitat, UNEP, National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), University of Nairobi, African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Muungano, local community) and the media.”

Use of citizen science approach

The study was carried out using the novel citizen science approach where volunteers were involved in the data collection stages of the scientific process. The community members of the informal settlement were trained to collect the air quality data and conduct perception interviews, thereby informing and educating the affected public about the risk air pollution poses to their health and options on how to overcome this threat.

The approach did involve a range of challenges, for example high expectations from participants, the volume of data with associated validation and quality-checking requirements, ethics, and the need for high engagement. But despite these the project was a clear success in terms of creating awareness and educating the community on air pollution.

SEI 2016 News AirPollutionNairobi Survey 120xDoris Bosibori (right), one of the Mukuru community participants, carries out an interview.Doris Bosibori from the Mukuru community, who participated in the study, said: “The research made us [the community] know more about air pollution and that we need to understand it better. Getting involved in the different aspects of the research, we also realized the urgent need to address air pollution issues by all the stakeholders, be it the government officials, the private sector as well as from us – as the community.”

This pilot study has provided a basis for developing a more comprehensive and long-term collaborative programme. This programme is expected to contribute to healthier lives of local communities in Nairobi, and potentially other cities throughout sub-Saharan Africa, by raising awareness on how to prevent and stay away from particulate matter emissions, as well as contributing to the development of effective air pollution mitigation policies.