Air pollution is a major health concern around the world, with Particulate Matter (PM) being one of the main pollutants of concern. PM consists of solid and liquid particles of different sizes – the smallest with particle sizes of 2.5 microns or less in diameter is classified as PM2.5 – that stem from burning fossil fuels such as charcoal, petrol, kerosene or biomass such as wood. Every breath a person takes contains PM and once inhaled, PM is known to cause ill health. In Africa alone, PM2.5 causes 670,000 premature deaths annually. As well as reducing life expectancy, it lowers the quality of life through respiratory and cardiovascular diseases often leading to a reduction in the resilience and productivity of people. Levels of this air pollutant are particularly high in informal settlements (sometimes referred to as slums), both outdoor and indoor: outdoor due to the settlements often being located near to industrial areas, busy and dusty roads, and sites of litter burning, and indoor due to cooking, lighting and heating with low-quality fuels in badly ventilated huts.

Photo - street scene in Mukuru (Nairobi)
Typical street scene in the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi. See YouTube – https://youtu.be/26RtAcLUjE0

Attempts to improve air pollution and reduce people’s exposure to it have been introduced in Nairobi’s informal settlements in recent years, including awareness raising campaigns. However, significant positive effects on people’s health have not yet been reported.

The AIR Network is exploring new approaches, bringing together researchers from different disciplines and people who live and work in the informal settlements to discuss the issues, raise awareness and consider potential solutions. These solutions will integrate scientific, non-scientific and societal understanding and knowledge to ensure relevance and impact.

The network comprises 15 partners from a wide range of disciplines, and community participants (residents of Mukuru, Nairobi) who are using a mixture of methods to discuss, explore and engage with the issue of air pollution, including theatre, visual arts, mobile phones, games, story-telling and music.

During 2018, four mini-projects using different methods are being tried out in Mukuru. These are:

  • Raising Awareness – aiming to raise awareness of air pollution amongst Mukuru residents
  • Mukuru Action Against Air Pollution – aiming to identify potential solutions to air pollution in Mukuru
  • Engaging with industry for Hewa safi, Afya bora (Clean air, Good health) – opening up dialogue between surrounding industry and Mukuru residents
  • Prioritising policies for cleaner air in Mukuru – engaging decision makers to prioritise and implement actions relating to air quality
Photo: AirNET Workshop - January 2018
AirNET Workshop, January 2018.