Limited Air Pollution Data Hampers Development of Policies

Prof. Westervelt (left) interacts with Prof. Ngumi during the courtesy call

Air pollution is a serious health risk for residents living in urban and industrial areas that are highly saturated with pollutants.

According to Prof. Daniel Westervelt, a research scientist at Columbia University-based Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the availability of little data especially in Sub-Saharan Africa on air pollution has made it difficult to determine the extent of air pollution and develop informed policies geared towards protecting human health.

“Until you actually have the data, you can’t quantify the problem and you can’t manage the problem. The only way to figure out solutions is to know what you’re dealing with,” said Prof. Westervelt.

Prof. Westervelt added that data decoded from air pollution sensors can be used for high quality modelling, satellite observation, policy recommendations and health studies.

Prof. Westervelt has set his sight on addressing air pollution data gap by setting up an air pollution-monitoring network for three megacities in Sub-Saharan Africa: Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kampala, Uganda; and Nairobi, Kenya.

He attributed the limited data on air pollution to high cost of air pollution sensors however, he gave an assurance that his ultimate goal is getting useful, actionable data out of low cost sensors.

Prof. Westervelt made a presentation on “Closing the Air Pollution Data Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa” during a webinar hosted by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

Present during the webinar was the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension, Prof. Mary Abukutsa and Director, Research and Innovations, Dr. John Kinyuru.

Earlier, Prof. Westervelt had paid a courtesy call on the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi where both discussed collaboration opportunities in curriculum development in air quality monitoring and staff and students’ exchange between JKUAT and Columbia University.

While appreciating Prof. Westervelt for the visit, Prof. Ngumi underscored the importance of coming up with a Memorandum of Understanding to concretize the collaboration especially in the area of curriculum development and human resource development in air quality monitoring.

“I am excited with the potential that the collaboration brings and I am looking forward to JKUAT being the first University in the country to offer an exclusive air quality course,” said Prof. Ngumi.

Prof. Westervelt informed the Vice Chancellor that in collaboration with a JKUAT MSc. Environmental Legislation and Management student, Ms. Josephine Kanyeria, they are in the process of installing air quality monitoring equipment at JKUAT and other institutions along Thika Road.

Ms. Kanyeria (center) with Dr. Njogu and Prof. Westervelt

“The air monitoring sensors will be vital in assessing the level of pollution in relation to the ambient air quality standards in a bid to reduce pollution and achieve clean air,” Prof. Westervelt stated.

This is part of a four-year project on air pollution and climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa where Prof. Westervelt is the Lead Fellow.

Present during the courtesy call included the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs, Prof. Robert Kinyua and Acting Director, Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology (IEET), Dr. Paul Njogu and Dr. Francis Xavier Ochieng of IEET.

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