East African Digital Solutions to Air Quality Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Air quality in most East African cities has declined dramatically over the last decades and it air pollution is now the leading environmental risk factor for human health. There is a critical lack of data to assess air quality in East Africa, and therefore to quantify its effect upon human health. Air quality networks in East Africa are still in their early days, with the long term and systematic measurement of air pollutants only available at less than a handful of sites. Large spatial and temporal gaps in data exist. From a historical perspective, very little is known of air pollution concentrations before 2010. The lack of historical data makes it extremely difficult to assess the deleterious effects of air pollution upon human health. It also poses challenges for assessing the efficacy of air quality interventions. Hence informed decisions about infrastructure, which take air quality into account are difficult to make.

This proposal forms a new network to co-create strategy and protocols to bring together data that relate to air pollution in East African Urban areas. It targets the capitals of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Kenya (Nairobi) and Uganda (Kampala). New data science techniques will be developed to synthesize disparate data streams into spatially and temporally coherent outputs, which can be used to understand historic, contemporary and future air quality. The proposal will provide a road map to harness the power of new data analytics and big data technologies.

To design this roadmap, three high intensity workshops and interspersed virtual meetings will be undertaken in Stage 1. Each workshop will tackle a key knowledge gap or development challenge:

- Workshop 1: Parameterizing the data problem in East Africa for assessing the causes and effects of air pollution (Kampala)

- Workshop 2: Big data approaches to improve East Africa air quality prediction (Addis Ababa)

- Workshop 3: Creating greater capacity and capability in analytic air quality science (Nairobi)

The Stage 1 research outcomes will enable the development of tailored mitigation strategies for improving air quality. The methodologies developed in the proposal will be translatable and scalable throughout urban East Africa. Hence, the proposal will help realise multiple sustainable development goals (SDGs), including SDG3: Good health and well-being, SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities, and SDG17: Partnerships for the goals.

To ensure the project reaches its maximum potential, it includes an extensive array of research translation activities: workshops with academic and non-academic stakeholders; a professionally designed website, which will hold both academic and non-academic outputs including open source academic papers and presentations; briefing notes directed at a range of external stakeholders, including top down governance and bottom up grassroots organizations.

Project partners from business, academia, governance and public engagement with science are involved and will attend the workshops. They are Uber, Amazon Web Services, PA Consulting, Kampala Capital City Authority, African Population Health Research Centre, Birmingham Open Media, GCRF Multi-Hazard Urban Disaster Risk Transitions Hub, and the Alan Turing Institute. They offer an additional £102,951 of in-kind contributions to the project. Their incorporation widens the available skillsets and will help deliver long-term impact in the East African region.

Planned Impact

The project has an extensive array of research translation activities planned:

1. Project website. This will be professionally designed and sufficient budget is requested to ensure the project has a lasting digital legacy for at least five years. Success metrics: (1) high East African engagement rates across all countries and regions within countries, as measured by East African visitor statistics, via website analytics. (2) Generation of business opportunities within air pollution monitoring and prediction within the East African region.

2. Academic outputs. The incorporation of data science techniques into air quality will generate significant impact in multiple academic fields, including atmospheric science, public health and data science. Success metrics: (1) acceptance of at least one perspective piece article on the network outputs in a high impact journal (IF > 5) co-authored by the network with East African representation prominent on the author list. (2) Attainment of Stage 2 DIDA proposal.

3. Comms. The team will liaise with the communications team at the University of Birmingham, African and US CoI organizations and project partner institutions including the Alan Turing Institute, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Birmingham Open Media (BOM), APHRC, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), PA Consulting, Uber to generate media reports on the project outputs and activities to maximise the prominence of the project to multiple stakeholders (governance, practitioners, public, academia). Success metrics: a minimum of two articles published in a major East African newspaper (e.g. the Nation in Kenya, New Vision in Uganda and Capital Ethiopia) during the life course of the project (n.b. UK media outlets will also be targeted).

4. Workshops. Three workshops are the major engines of impact generation in the project.
In addition to their stated aims (see Case for Support) the workshops will provide opportunities for stakeholders (government officials, academics, businesses, and representatives of civil society and the international development community) to share practical experiences of researching air pollution and developing air quality interventions. Success metrics: (1) three workshops will be organised and metrics concerning attendance and media activities will be collated.

5. Briefing notes. The project will produce at least three briefing notes targeting different stakeholder audiences. An indicative series has been identified and will be refined in the webinars prior to the workshops: 'Available data sources for predicting urban air quality in East Africa: the usual and the unusual'; 'The use of data science to generate better temporal and spatial air pollution data'; 'Translation of data science outputs to governance stakeholders'. Success metrics: (1) briefing notes are accessed and used by key stakeholders with references to briefing notes by stakeholders or requests for support collated.

6. Project Studentship. A summer studentship will be funded by project partner PA Consulting to undertake a a business orientated project that is cognate with the aims of the proposal. Success metrics: (1) Successful completion summer placement for student, who will gain a greater appreciation of the role of business in science; (2) Briefing note publication; (3) knowledge translation of air quality solutions to PA Consulting.


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Singh A (2020) Visibility as a proxy for air quality in East Africa in Environmental Research Letters

Description The Digital Air Quality (DAQ) team have created spaces and places for discussion around the role of digital techniques in better understanding air quality in East Africa.

In particular, DAQ - East Africa formed a new network to co-create strategies to integrate the multiplicity of data streams that relate to air pollution in East African Urban areas.

Central to the project's aims are strengthening research capabilities and technological expertise in East Africa, with local stakeholders and experts involved in the conception, implementation, and uptake of the programme and its outcomes.
Exploitation Route The network generated has the potential to significantly improve the capability and capacity of air quality management in the target East African cities.
Sectors Creative Economy

Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)


Description The findings from the project have helped influence African air quality policy through many channels. Most notably the project has fed into the following UNEP report "Integrated Assessment of Air Pollution and Climate Change for Sustainable Development in Africa", on which PI Pope and CoI Avis were involved. https://wedocs.unep.org/handle/20.500.11822/41223 The work from DAQ continues to inform projects on air quality in East Africa and beyond. Pope and Avis are working with FCDO to bring learning into other country offices outside of East Africa.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural


Policy & public services

Description Nairobi Metropolitan Air Quality Management Framework
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Stakeholder engagement is key to strategic actions to improve air quality in Nairobi and other cities. More of these must be organized and continually monitored. The processes must be locally owned by the Nairobi Counties and thus their inputs are critical just like other stakeholders. The meeting involved the political, legal and technical arms of the governments. All agreed to the need to collectively act on improving AQ in the metropolis starting with Mapping the activities and policy engagements of each county to know where to start. The collective actions that the four Counties can engage in were mapped out. The need to organize County consultative forums for each county then a joint one again were over emphasized. The forums are to engage a broader base of stakeholders and departments within each County bringing in all the arms of the government. This will enhance the political buy in and even trigger budgetary allocations. The Integrated AQ management framework idea received lots of support and needs to be finalized and operationalized through further consultative engagements and policy support. The specific AQ policies and laws at the County need to be specified and actions towards their drafting and enactment should start soon. Capacity building needs in the Counties must be assessed and acted on for sustainability This activity was led by the Nairobi based African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTs), who intend to organize further stakeholder engagements for each of the Nairobi Counties.
Title Anthropogenic emission inventory DICE-EDGAR data for the year 2013 
Description Emission inventory for East Africa 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The emission inventory data is now publicly available. 
URL http://edata.bham.ac.uk/695/
Description Hackathon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact To harness the power of citizen science, we engaged with Zindi, which is the first African led hackathon organisation. A competition was held to improve air quality prediction in Kampala using the AirQo low cost sensor network. The winning team was a combination of a Kenyan and Indian nationals, who had had no previous connection. This example of bottom up South-South learning was an unexpected and excellent result.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://zindi.africa/competitions/airqo-ugandan-air-quality-forecast-challenge