How low cost sensors are tracking air quality in East Africa’s largest city

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Air quality sensor inside a protective plastic tube with air intake on the left.

Like many African cities, Nairobi does not regularly monitor its urban air quality, even as the levels of air pollution worsen to the point where a brown haze regularly develops over the central business district.

While Kenya has gazetted laws such as the Air Quality Regulations passed in 2014 to limit air pollution and protect the air that we breathe, there is limited information on the level of particulate air pollutants in Nairobi, and this lack of data makes it difficult to assess the potential impact of air pollution in order to adequately respond to the threats posed by poor air quality. …

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Newsrooms are increasingly using data in storytelling to produce better content, empower citizens and promote government accountability. But as many journalists in Africa know, accessing government data can sometimes prove to be a tall order. In some cases, the data doesn’t even exist. International organizations release periodic data on a range of issues, but what if a journalist wants to access the most recent — perhaps to-the-minute — local data?

The issue of missing data inspired the establishment of a pan-African citizen network that uses sensors to collect data for use by journalists, citizens, civic watchdogs and governments on the continent. Under the leadership of ICFJ Knight Fellows, Code for Africa, the continent’s largest data journalism and civic technology initiative, has so far built and deployed 22 air quality sensors in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. It hopes to deploy 300 more for its sensorsAFRICA project, which aims to generate data on a variety of issues including air and noise pollution, water safety, and even the presence of potholes on public roads. …

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A project that uses low-cost air quality sensors to monitor air pollution in six major African cities is providing data that journalists are using for the first time to enhance coverage of related health and environmental concerns.

Launched in 2017 in response to a lack of data on air quality in African cities, sensors.AFRICA uses locally assembled sensors to measure and record air pollutants. In turn, local news outlets have used the collected data to report on pollution levels, and community activists have used it to advocate for cleaner air.

sensors.AFRICA is a project of Code for Africa, the continent’s largest data journalism and civic technology initiative, established in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Code for Africa’s team of technologists have assembled and deployed the sensors in various locations, including Nairobi, Lagos, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Durban and Johannesburg. …

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