Using sensor data to tackle deadly environmental dangers in Africa

Air pollution causes about seven million premature deaths globally each year, including an estimated 700,000 deaths in Africa. The negative health effects of air pollution are well-known – for example, exposures to ozone and particulate matter can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease. However, the extent of air pollution across the African continent, and its effects on people’s health, have historically been difficult to quantify.

Most countries in Africa lack the infrastructure needed to map in detail the levels of pollutants to which people are exposed, and how those pollutants affect public health. Without this knowledge base, the World Bank and other development institutions have been unable to assess the impacts of a variety of sources of air pollution outside urban areas in Africa. As a result, analyses to date have been unable to determine the scale of adverse health impacts and mortality levels across the continent.

This Data Innovation Fund project, “AFRICA: citizen science using sensor data to tackle deadly environmental dangers by producing actionable information”, involved conducting research on methods for mobilizing, analyzing, and monitoring near real-time data on air quality in selected African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. The project was developed and conducted by the Code for Africa (CfA) team, who worked with existing data on air quality.

After identifying different networks collecting real-time air quality data in Africa, CfA collated the data into a single experimental repository, which included a dashboard of data visualizations. The team also did a comparison of the hardware used to collect the data and developed training courses on how to use the hardware with relevant open source software. Finally, CfA conducted a literature review and presented international case studies applicable to the African context.

Findings from the literature review and case studies included: 1) citizen science can contribute positively to social well-being by influencing the policy dialogue and by giving people a voice in local environmental decision-making (Bonney et al., 2015),1 and 2) citizen science projects are increasingly being recognized as catalysts for triggering behavioral change and building social capital around environmental issues (Van Brussel & Huyse, 2018).2 Overall, CfA concluded that citizen science projects create awareness among citizenry and provide a platform for action groups to advocate for environmental justice in Africa.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals include: 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).

Final Report

Literature Review and Case Studies

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