Regional Communications Firm, Liquid Telecom Partners with Tech Network, Code for Africa to Combat Deadly Air Pollution in Kenya

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Liquid Telecom Kenya, a subsidiary of the Pan-African telecommunications company of the same name, has partnered with Africa’s largest non-profit civic technology network, Code for Africa (CfA) to combat deadly air pollution in the East African nation.

The deal will ensure the installation of air quality sensors at 3,000 sites across the country, following warnings that air pollution is killing more than 20,000 Kenyans a year.

The sensors will be installed in a phased rollout at Liquid Telecom Kenya’s towers country-wide and powered by what the company calls its new Internet of Things (IoT) Low Power Wide Area (Sigfox LPWAN) network.

The nationwide rollout follows a pilot exercise in the capital of Nairobi with 60 air sensors managed by CfA’s Sensors Africa (written as ‘sensors.AFRICA’) department. sensors.AFRICA is a pan-African citizen science initiative that uses cutting-edge data science and hardware sensors to monitor air, water and sound pollution to help give citizens actionable information about their environment.

The pilot phase of the project has confirmed widespread and dangerous air pollution in the city, supporting estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) that 20,739 Kenyans are dying each year from air pollution.

The expanded network of citizen science sensors will provide detailed neighbourhood measurements of airborne pollutants every 2 and a half minutes.

According to results from the pilot sensors, even on a Sunday, when traffic and industrial activity levels are reduced, Nairobi’s air quality is averaging 45% to 65% above the minimum safe pollutant levels set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO warns that prolonged exposure to pollution at these levels sharply reduces life span, causing health issues such as ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and acute lower respiratory infections in children. Across Kenya, the WHO reports that air pollution is the fifth largest cause of deaths and disability after alcohol. However, actual deaths may be higher still, with air pollution increasing the risks of multiple lifestyle diseases, from diabetes and strokes to cancers.

“Air pollution in Kenya is a worsening problem as urbanisation and economic growth lead to substantial increases in traffic levels, construction of high-rise buildings and new industrial activities, releasing fine particulate matter into the air. Weak refuse removal services also result in citizens burning plastic and other garbage on roadsides, making pollution even worse,” said CfA Technologist and sensors.AFRICA Lead, Chege James.

Kenya’s government has moved to tackle the crisis with tougher air quality regulations in laws such as the 2015 amendment of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act of 1999.

“The authorities know pollution is bad, but no-one has until now had localised evidence about exactly how bad, or where the hotspots are. Liquid Telecom Kenya’s new IoT network will help sensors.AFRICA create a detailed map of the problem, so that everyone can understand the scale and nature of one of our nation’s biggest killers,” said Liquid Telecom East Africa Chief Executive Officer Adil El-Youssefi.

Under the partnership, the sensor network will be expanded to the Kenyan towns of Mombasa and Nakuru, with Liquid Telecom Kenya’s IoT network reducing the running costs for each of the sensors from Ksh18,000 (about $180) a year using traditional Wi-Fi networks to just Ksh1,200 (about $12) a year.

The network will also underpin partnerships with community radio stations and other grassroots watchdog organisations.

“Citizens, journalists, researchers and regulators will all have access to real-time data from sensors.AFRICA. Citizens will be able to understand the data via a simple public dashboard with gauges and easy alert options for their specific neighbourhood, while researchers and regulators will have free access to the raw data via the website,” said Liquid Telecom Kenya’s Head of IoT Strategy, Joel Muigai.

The sensors will be deployed in a phased approach, starting with Nairobi’s Central Business District before moving to other towns.

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