Until recently there has been a lack of data on air quality across sub-Saharan Africa. Reference grade monitors are extremely expensive and without access to data it is very difficult to raise awareness of the issues, or for government, business and individuals to know which actions to take to improve air quality and protect community health.
AirQo has built a low-cost network of sensors and collected data across 65 locations in Uganda with some sites monitoring for over three years. There is now a wealth of data which can be used to achieve impact in this critical area. Birmingham University’s ASAP project makes use of this and similar data to gain insights into the relationship between urbanisation and air quality.
The increase in availability of air quality data allows us to analyse historical and up to the minute results to gain insights into trends, hotspots, causes and consequences of poor air, potential policy solutions and so much more.
The ability to accurately predict what air quality will be in the coming days is also essential for empowering everyone from governments to families to make informed decisions to protect health and guide action, just as we do with weather.
Activities that are known to contribute to poor air quality such as high traffic volumes, rubbish burning, cooking using charcoal and firewood, even construction or other government works can also be reconsidered depending on the forecast.
If it is known that the next day will be a high pollution day then sports or other events may need to be rescheduled or relocated. Sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, sick or those with respiratory illnesses may need to remain inside. Schools can plan the timing of outdoor activities such as field trips or sports events with confidence.
We are hopeful that these forecasts will be used to inform public awareness and be built into safety alerts. They can become part of daily news coverage whether in traditional or social media in the same way weather is currently presented. The solution could literally be life saving.
The objective of this challenge is to accurately forecast air quality (as measured by PM2.5 µ/m3) for each hour of the coming 25 hours across five locations in Kampala Uganda. Forecasts will be based on the past 5 days of hourly air quality measurements at each site.
AirQo is a research initiative of the College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. For over three years it has been developing monitoring devices suitable for the local context to address the lack of air quality monitoring in the country. In 2019 AirQo received a grant from Google.org which enabled them to increase the scale of the network, adopt a cloud based platform for community network management and make use of machine learning to make best use of the data including calibration, device placement, making spatial and temporal forecasts and more
ASAP (A Systems Approach to Air Pollution) is a research project led the University of Birmingham, UK with multiple international partners focusing on urbanisation and air quality in east Africa, with a focus on Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. The project takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying the causes and consequences of air pollution in the region as it develops. They also explore the governance, awareness raising and policy issues involved in finding solutions to this challenge.