The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

Clean Air Toolbox for African Cities

Lead Organization

The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, New York, United States

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Project Summary

Air pollution causes hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and a host of illnesses in Africa each year. The Clean Air Toolbox is a scalable approach to build capacity in African cities to collaboratively develop solutions for cleaner air. We will deploy the CAToolbox in eight African cities that are home to over 33 million people and growing. In each city, we will build on existing capacity to establish a sustainable air pollution monitoring network. We will identify sources of pollution and quantify city-level and population-specific health risks, with particular attention to sensitive groups including children and pregnant women. The data will be openly shared, alongside user-friendly tools for visualization and interpretation. Our interdisciplinary team will develop models of air quality, health, and the benefits and costs of pollution reduction. Clean Air Hubs, local outreach and resource centers, will build technical capacity and support pollution reduction across the continent.

Problem Statement

Air pollution is causing an “invisible” public health crisis, responsible for around 7 million premature deaths worldwide each year. Increasingly, with economic activity and urbanization, air pollution-related disease and death are occurring in places least equipped with technical capacity, planning and resources to address them. In Africa, an estimated 700,000 premature deaths annually and many serious diseases are linked to air pollution from sources including transportation, industrial activity, electricity generation, biomass fuel and natural or regional sources. Yet, half a billion African children live in areas with no reliable air quality monitoring, making actual impacts uncertain. Difficulty tracing pollution back to its sources and measuring local health impacts, in addition to insufficient advocacy, hinder pollution management and control. To support clean air and children’s health in African cities, the first step is closing the data and knowledge gap, in collaboration with those affected, through new collaborative networks. Aggregating the best science and technology, including new low-cost sensors and public data from satellites and models, and utilizing the power of open data and open source software are critical to scale clean air action. The second step is mobilization and capacity building, creative communications, outreach, education and law and policy change. Authentic partnerships with local organizations, extensive engagement, and co-production of solutions are all necessary to support, amplify and not displace emerging local networks and efforts. The Clean Air Toolbox brings all of these key leverage points together in an innovative collaborative framework for cleaner air in African cities.

Solution Overview

We will apply the CAToolbox approach in: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dakar, Senegal, Accra,Ghana, Kampala, Uganda, Kinshasa, DR Congo, Nairobi, Kenya, Kigali, Rwanda, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In each CAToolbox city, we will work with cities, strengthen clean air networks, and build on existing measurement efforts to create a sustainable air pollution monitoring network and generate openly shared, high-quality neighborhood-level air pollution exposure data, one of the primary challenges for improving air quality [1,2]. Using this data, we will work with local experts to evaluate the impacts of air pollution, especially on children’s health [3,4], and identify sources of pollution.Through open data, science and collaboration, the team will support a Clean Air Hub in each city to build local expertise and capacity and develop guidance on topics including: interpreting observations to guide effective control strategy development and integrating sensor data with data from other sources, such as global satellites [5,6]. The Hub will bolster and connect well-informed clean air advocacy networks and develop novel ways to communicate carefully researched health risks. It will provide an accessible program for estimating health impacts especially in children and the health benefits of reducing pollution levels through clean air interventions [3]. This program will support the collaborative design of air quality guidelines and regulatory frameworks to limit major pollution sources.The CAToolbox approach will enable the CAToolbox cities to partner with neighboring cities and future partners also demanding cleaner air, serving as a model for scaling across the continent.

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Project Funders

  • National Institute of Health USA 2012 - 2023
  • Columbia University 2018 - 2022
  • French National Research Agency (ANR) 2018 - 2022

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