Digital billboards around Nairobi live streamed the City’s real-time air pollution in an effort to increase air quality awareness among its more than 4.7 million inhabitants.

The initiative was run by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, Safaricom, Alpha and Jam and Metropolitan Star Lite, Out Of Home (OOH) media. The live stream provided real-time air quality information for fine airborne particles, known as PM2.5.

The pilot initiative aims to engage the public by streaming real-time air pollution information to digital billboards at 4 locations in the city. These are Moi Avenue, University Way, Mbagathi Way and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

PM2.5 causes serious health issues, including asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease. Exposure to PM2.5 has also been associated with low birth weight, increased acute respiratory infections, and stroke.

“Real time air quality monitoring will help us with the issuance of health advisories as well as for formulation of smart traffic controls that minimize congestion. Dynamic advisories demonstrated through this collaboration will help people limit their exposure to harmful pollutants,” said Lawrence Mwangi, Assistant Director of Environment in charge of pollution control at the Nairobi County Government.

Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.

According to UNEP, outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 3 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012 with 88% of those occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

Policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing, power generation, industry and better municipal waste management would reduce key sources of urban outdoor air pollution. Most residents of the city do not have access to real-time air quality data and consequently, are often unaware of the harmful levels of air they breathe.

“We recognize that some of the world’s most vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by poor air quality,” said IQAir CEO Frank Hammes. “Through our partnership with UNEP, we are able to leverage real-time air quality monitoring data, machine learning and data visualization to help identify those that are most affected by global air pollution. The real-time visibility of the impact of air pollution on mankind, combined with the outreach and support that the UNEP offers, can help governments and communities around the world take actions that lead to cleaner, healthier air.”

The Nairobi air quality awareness demonstration project is the result of a unique collaboration between the UN, the private sector, academia, non-governmental and local governmental organizations. The project is expected to accelerate efforts to change how transport, waste management and other services are managed in a bid to significantly reduce pollution.