The Climate Alarm Is Ringing – It’s Time to Stop Silencing It

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Last Generation Germany

LONDON, Apr 12 2024 (IPS) – The heat records keep tumbling – 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history. Extreme weather events keep mounting up. And yet the voices most strongly calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe are increasingly being silenced.

It’s a sad fact that climate campaigners in the global south – in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America – have long faced repression. People have been subjected to incarceration and violence all the way up to murder for resisting climate-harming extractive projects and environmental destruction. In comparison, climate activists in global north countries – including Europe and North America – for a long time enjoyed relative freedom, which they used to protest against their governments and the corporations headquartered in their countries that bear most of the responsibility for causing global warming.

But they no longer enjoy the full freedom to do so. As the latest State of Civil Society Report from global civil society alliance CIVICUS shows, several global north governments are increasingly making it harder for people to take part in climate protests. They’re using anti-protest laws, raids, arrests, jail sentences and violence to try to subdue voices calling for urgent action.

When it comes to the climate, delay is denial, because if action isn’t taken fast, it may be too late. This means the repression of activists demanding immediate action must be seen as a form of climate denial.

Examples are piling up. In Germany last year, authorities used laws intended to combat organised crime to raid the homes of young activists from the Last Generation climate movement, seize their laptops and freeze their bank accounts. The German police also used violence against activists trying to block a coalmine expansion. The imposition of restrictions on climate activism is one the key reasons the CIVICUS Monitor recently downgraded Germany’s civic space rating.

In Italy too, the government has served climate campaigners with criminal conspiracy indictments historically used against the mafia, and it has also introduced a law to criminalise non-violent action at key sites. The Dutch authorities have responded with mass arrests to roadblock protests demanding it fulfil its promise to end fossil fuel subsidies, which amount to around US$39.9 billion a year. Thousands have been detained and the police have used water cannon against protesters.

The UK government has passed a package of laws that criminalise disruptive and noisy protests, clearly targeted at the non-violent direct action used by climate campaigners. In January, the UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, condemned these new laws. Numerous climate activists have been jailed for peaceful protest actions that until recently would never have received a prison sentence. Meanwhile the UK government plans to grant over 100 new oil and gas licences. Several Australian states have also passed anti-protest laws that have been used to jail climate activists.

Global north states, apparently eager to do the bidding of the fossil fuel giants, can be expected to intensify this repression as the gap between the action needed and the lack of effort being taken becomes increasingly clear. They silence civil society because activists expose the hypocrisy behind the greenwash. As right-wing populists and nationalists who oppose climate action – and often spread climate disinformation – gain influence across the global north, climate activists can expect an even greater wave of vilification.

The impacts of repression are personal. They increase the costs and dangers of activism in an attempt to deter people from getting involved and sap collective energies. However, in response, campaigners are showing resilience. In Germany, frozen funds were quickly replaced with crowdsourced donations. In the Netherlands, attempts to repress roadblocks motivated more people to turn up to protest.

But the opportunity cost is steep. Energy that should be invested in advancing creative climate solutions is instead being spent in fending off restrictions. In the long-term, there’s a danger of attrition, depleting the ranks of climate activists. And without civil society, who will push to keep the climate crisis high on the political agenda?

Civil society has shown it can make a difference. While there was much to be unhappy about with the last global climate summit, COP28, the fact that for the first time states acknowledged the need to transition away from fossil fuel use came as a direct result of civil society’s decades-long advocacy. More institutions are committing to divest from fossil fuel investments due to campaigning pressure: 72 per cent of UK universities have now done so, because student activists demanded it.

And the growing field of climate litigation keeps paying off. A group of Swiss women just won a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights, which found that their government has violated their human rights by not doing enough to tackle climate change, a verdict that sets a strong precedent. Last year, courts in Belgium and Germany insisted on stronger actions to cut emissions following lawsuits brought by campaigners. More are sure to follow.

Civil society will strive to keep working on every front possible, through protest, advocacy and litigation, because the scale of the climate crisis demands a full spectrum of responses. States should stop trying to hold back the tide and put themselves on the right side of history. They must respect the right of everyone to protest and stop the denial they practise through repression.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


India’s Farmers Could Use Better Monsoon Forecasts

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Food and Agriculture

Monsoon rains in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India. Credit: Ganesh Partheeban/Unsplash

Monsoon rains in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India. Credit: Ganesh Partheeban/Unsplash

NEW DELHI , Apr 3 2024 (IPS) – Agriculture in India need not ‘gamble’ with the monsoons if accurate weather and climate forecasts are proactively made available to farmers, according to the results of a new experimental study conducted by the University of Chicago.

Approximately 70–90 percent of total annual rainfall across most of India, a major agricultural producer, occurs during the June to September monsoon, which varies widely in onset timing and quantity, making predictions difficult for farmers, says the study published February 26, 2024, as a non-peer-reviewed working paper.

While the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has advanced monsoon forecasting systems, researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found that farmers in southern Telengana state, where the study was conducted, tended not to rely on IMD or other forecasts.

“For whatever reason, few of the farmers we talked with in Telengana were using a forecast about the timing of the local start of the monsoon to help guide their planting decisions,” says Amir Jina, senior fellow at the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago and author of the study.

While Indian farmers have traditionally depended on official forecasts issued by the IMD, first established in 1875, the Chicago team relied on forecast data generated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“The PIK model produces a probability distribution of potential onset dates, which can be summarized as a likely onset date range, making it easy for farmers to understand,” the study said.

“This particular study looks at a new approach to forecasting the onset of the Indian Summer Monsoon over southern India’s Telangana region that can predict the arrival of the monsoon across India four to six weeks in advance,” says Fiona Burlig, coauthor of the study and assistant professor at the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago.

PIK, under a climate capacity programme that covers East Africa, Peru, and India, focuses on staple crops in India, makes use of semi-empirical modeling frameworks, and combines them with satellite remote sensing earth observation data.

In the experimental study, PIK forecasts enabled farmers to make early decisions about key inputs such as the type of crops, labour supply, and fertilizer purchases, significantly improving profitability. “PIK forecasts were especially accurate over Telangana State, the site of our experiment,” says Burlig.

Burlig and her team studied how farmers across 250 villages in Telangana changed their planting strategies once they were convinced of the high accuracy of the monsoon forecasts. An early monsoon typically means a longer growing season, suited to cash crops like cotton, while later monsoons would help farmers decide to grow lower-value subsistence crops like paddy, the researchers said.

“This is measured proof for IMD how important the work of forecasting is for farmers in India and can help thinking about how to measure even more benefits of other types of forecasts from the IMD that the farmers use. All the progress IMD makes should be validated and encouraged by this basic fact,” Jina tells SciDev.Net.

“Farmers find that climate change is increasingly making predictions of the monsoon’s arrival and other weather patterns difficult,” says Burlig. “Our study, which was conducted in an area of low agricultural productivity, demonstrated how the new forecasts were able to deliver accurate monsoon predictions even in a changing climate.”

Because climate change increases weather variability, farmers are reluctant to take risks and typically tend to underinvest for the season ahead, Burlig said. A pre-season survey by the team in Telangana found wide variations in farmers’ estimations of when the monsoon would arrive.

The study experimentally evaluated monsoon onset forecasts in 250 villages, which were divided into a control group, a forecast group that received information well in advance of monsoon onset and a benchmark index insurance group.

Agricultural insurance lowers farmers’ risk exposure but does not improve their information, the study says. Overall, farmers who received insurance increased the land they cultivated and their investments in seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs by 12 percent compared to those who did not receive forecast information.

“The findings of the experimental study are well within what is expected,” said Arun Shanker, principal scientist at the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad. Studies like these, he said, are important because resilience to climate change will depend greatly on increasing agricultural productivity with available water resources.

However, Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, says the University of Chicago’s study is “severely outdated” as it is based on a pre-2016 prediction model. “Since then, IMD has moved to the dynamic, advanced, ‘Climate Forecast System’ that provides both regional and pan-India forecasts at a high resolution.”

“The Potsdam model and forecasts are not based on a full-fledged, dynamic system like the IMD climate forecast system and have limited application,” Koll, a lead author of the IPCC reports and former chair of the Indian Ocean Region Panel, tells SciDev.Net.

Soma Sen Roy, scientist at the IMD and India representative at the World Meteorological Organization, said the IMD issues forecasts at all time scales—nowcasting, medium range, extended range, seasonal, and long-range forecasting throughout the year.  “These forecasts are not specifically linked to the monsoons, for which special forecasts are issued.”

Said Jina, “Our research underscores that all the investments and improvements the IMD has made in recent years, and continues to make, are useful and important for farmers.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


Parents Harness Pedal and Wind Power To Demand Climate Action

Civil Society, Environment, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations


Yamandú Pagliano plans to cross Praia do Cassino, the world's longest beach, stretching 250 kilometers along Brazil's southern coast from Uruguay, in his homemade wheeled wind buggy, , to highlight the need to address global heating. Credit: Yamandú Pagliano

Yamandú Pagliano plans to cross Praia do Cassino, the world’s longest beach, stretching 250 kilometers along Brazil’s southern coast from Uruguay, in his homemade wheeled wind buggy, to highlight the need to address global heating. Credit: Yamandú Pagliano

ROME, Mar 26 2024 (IPS) – Extreme sports are not just for young people. Climate activism isn’t either. Yamandù Pagliano is proof.

The 59-year-old father of two is gearing up for an epic feat. He plans to cross the longest beach on Earth, the Praia do Cassino, stretching from the border of Uruguay 250 kilometres up Brazil’s southern coastline, on his home-made wheeled wind buggy.

It’s a massive challenge both in physical and mental terms and one that brings multiple risks with it, including the danger of getting lost, crashing, or being swept out into the sea if the weather turns nasty.

But the Montevideo native has a special motive for taking it on.

Organizers want to highlight the “institutional indifference” to the climate crisis at all levels of government, promote sustainable transport and tourism, draw attention to the need for more cycle paths, especially in southern Italy, and make a loud appeal for peace around the world

Pagliano is a member of Parents for Future (PFF), a global network of citizens concerned about the climate crisis set up to support and echo the calls made by the young people of the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement.

When he takes on the Praia do Cassino challenge, he’ll be flying the Parents for Future flag on the mast of his wind buggy to highlight the need to address global heating.

“It’s going to be a PFF challenge,” Pagliano told IPS.

“My involvement in PFF started after my daughter joined FFF. Soon I was in Parents for Future Latin America (PFF LATAM) and then I helped to set up PFF Uruguay.

“I hope all the detailed stories of the crossing will help people become aware of the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution. I’ll probably find dead animals and plastic garbage on the beach and face extreme weather events”.

Pagliano knows that the climate crisis is no longer a distant problem for future generations as people in Uruguay have been faced with the consequences first hand, as seen with last year’s severe drought that caused dramatic water shortages.

“In Uruguay the winters are not as cold as they used to be, and summers are a lot hotter,” he said.

“We have had big floods, with houses carried down the coast, and recently we had the biggest drought in our history, with almost no water coming out of the tap”.

Fittingly for an initiative that seeks to show the need for sustainability, Pagliano made his windcar out of reused material, welding together pipes he picked up from a scrap yard, while the sail is second-hand.

“There’ll be no phone signal in the middle section of the beach and I’ll be on my own for quite some time,” said Pagliano, who works in construction.

“I will be completely isolated. You have to be ready for every eventuality.

“Depending on the wind, it could take two or three days.

“It could take just one day with an early departure in good conditions, with the wind blowing in the perfect direction and at the perfect strength.

“It gets tiring physically after a while, but the adrenalin keeps you pumped up.

“It’s a good way to highlight the need to be sustainable.

“It’s a natural sport. There’s no contamination. No carbon footprint.

“I’ll do the crossing first and then go public if I’m successful, like Gagarin,” he quipped.

He is not the only parent harnessing renewable energy to draw attention to the need for climate action.

On the other side of the world, the Italian section of PFF is getting ready for the Running For Future, Cycling For Peace – a bike event which, fittingly for the land of the Giro d’Italia, is split into stages.

The ‘race’ starts in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on May 10 and features 16 stages over nine days, roughly following the Via Francigena pilgrimage route southwards to end in Lecce on May 19.

Each stage will be used to focus on a specific aspect of the ecological crisis, such as air pollution, urban sprawl and the problems created by intensive livestock farming, while at the same time showing how they are all interconnected.

Organized with Fridays for Future Italia, the aims are multiple.

Among other things, organizers want to highlight the “institutional indifference” to the climate crisis at all levels of government, promote sustainable transport and tourism, draw attention to the need for more cycle paths, especially in southern Italy, and make a loud appeal for peace around the world.

The Italian section of Parents for Future gears up for "Running For Future, Cycling For Peace" — a multi-stage cycling event starting in Rome's Piazza del Popolo on May 10th and ending in Lecce on May 19th, following the Via Francigena route. Credit: Paul Virgo

The Italian section of Parents for Future gears up for “Running For Future, Cycling For Peace” — a multi-stage cycling event starting in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on May 10th and ending in Lecce on May 19th, following the Via Francigena route. Credit: Paul Virgo

“We chose a cycling initiative because the bicycle has become a symbol of ecology,” said Maria Santarossa of Parents for Future Italia.
“It is a clean means of transport, which enables you to stay fit and be in direct contact with nature.

“We chose a pilgrims’ path because we can consider it an emblem of the beauty of nature and it’s a way to remind ourselves that we must take care of beauty.

“We have involved many other movements, associations, committees, and networks because we want people to know that many of us have the same objectives regarding the very serious climate and environmental crisis that is present in everyone’s lives”.

It is free to take part in the event, although participants have to cover their own accommodation and food expenses.

It is the second such event. The first took place in 2021, going from Rome northwards along the Via Francigena to Milan for the PreCOP26 conference that was held there.

That was such a success that it inspired the Polish section of Parents for Future to stage a climate grand tour of its own.

Each national PFF group is autonomous and does its own thing, campaigning on the issues that are most appropriate given the local situation.

PFF Italia, for example, is currently engaged in a major campaign to convince consumers to switch to utility companies whose electricity comes only from renewable sources.

There is also an umbrella group, Parents for Future Global (PFFG), which, among other things, is campaigning to support the drive for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.


New Report Examines Progress on Global Sustainable Development Goals

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Natural Resources, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Students in Nepal’s Chitlang. Both Nomads/Forus

NEW YORK, Mar 21 2024 (IPS) – At the half-way point of the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “are in deep trouble.” The need to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has never been more urgent as only approximately 12% of targets are currently on track. “Planet” is equally at risk as “people”.

As civil society leader Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network, puts it, “What unfolds in the Sahel and in so many other forgotten communities ripples across the globe, impacting us all even if we choose to look away. Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is vital to unlock a different future.”

The new “Progressing National SDGs Implementation” report looks at how countries around the world are advancing in their efforts towards sustainable development. The 2023 edition of the report is particularly significant as it marks the midpoint towards the 2030 Agenda’s goals, and the “world is not delivering”.

The report, which has been published since 2017, looks at crucial aspects such as governance, civil society involvement and space, localization, the importance of policy coherence, and the principle of Leaving No One Behind.

To compile the analysis, the report combines official Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted by member states with spotlight and alternative assessments, which aim to offer a more complete picture of national progress, particularly with respect to the fundamental 2030 Agenda principle to leave no one behind.

The report highlights that while more countries are engaging in ‘whole of government’ planning to implement the SDGs, at the same time many of the same countries do not ensure a wider ‘whole of society’ approach that involves civil society partners in delivery of the 2030 Agenda.

The report calls for a renewed global commitment to the SDGs, with a focus on:

    • Increased ambition: Countries need to adopt more ambitious plans to achieve the SDGs and ensure policy coherence.
    • Leaving no one behind: Data collection and policy focus must ensure that everyone benefits from SDG progress pacitularly by considering the extra challenges faced in reaching historically marginalized groups.
    • Stronger partnerships: Governments, civil society, and the private sector need to work together more effectively.
    • Improved monitoring: More robust data, national statistical and monitoring systems are needed to track progress and identify areas lagging behind.

Oli Henman from Action for Sustainable Development said: “We need to ensure that SDG reviews are genuinely inclusive of all parts of society and that national plans are backed up with real steps towards financing implementation at the community level. This to the only way that the world can get back on track to deliver the transformative change that was promised in 2015.”

Wangu Mwangi, a seasoned environmental journalist and expert in sustainable development, has authored the Progressing National SDG Implementation Report 2023, drawing on her extensive experience in sustainable development, land governance, natural resources management, climate change adaptation, and African development.

This report was coordinated by A4SD, in collaboration with ANND, BOND, Cooperation Canada, CPDE, Forus, IISD, Save The Children UK, and Sightsavers.

IPS UN Bureau


From Gas to Ash: The Struggle of Nigerian Women Amidst Surging Cooking Gas Prices

Africa, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

KWARA, Nigeria, Mar 1 2024 (IPS) – One sunny mid-morning in Omu-Aran village, a community in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, Iyabo Sunday sat beside a firewood stand observing her pot of beans with rice (a combination enjoyed by many in Nigeria).

The 52-year-old widow used her plastic dirt parker to fan the flames, occasionally blowing air through her mouth for speed and frantically shielding her face from the wisps of smoke that curled from the firewood.

After a hike in electricity tariffs, Sunday told IPS that she abandoned her electric-powered stove for cooking gas. But instability in the “economy has successfully caused me to move back to the firewood since my children and I must eat.”

Oyedele Christiana, a 41-year-old restaurateur who specializes in making fufu, a local delicacy made from cassava, expressed her wish to stop using firewood and charcoal but was constrained by finances. “The smoke enters my eyes and makes me cough a lot.  I usually use firewood for my canteen business, while I use charcoal at home for household cooking.”

Like Iyabo, Christiana made use of cooking gas. The sporadic increase in the price of domestic gas has since pushed her to the traditional cooking method, with its attendant havoc on her eyes and lungs. “I am not as old as I look, but cooking has done this,” Oyedele sighed.

The price of cooking gas in Nigeria has soared wildly amid the country’s inflation woes. The removal of subsidy on petrol products, together with a depreciation of the naira, has resulted in a steep increase in the cost of food and transportation. This hike in the cost of living comes amid a minimum wage of N30,000 ($18), ranked among the lowest in the world, according to Picodi.

The price of 12.5 kg of cooking gas increased from N7,413. ($4) in 2022 to N16,875 ($10) in February 2024 across the country, a price just half the national minimum wage.

Implications on Women, Environment

Women living in grassroots communities who can no longer afford cooking gas have no choice but to bear the harsh method of cooking with firewood. Many, like Ajayi Omole, an octogenarian living in Akungba, a town in Ondo State, have made cooking with firewood a delight due to the lack of alternatives.

“We usually go into the forest, get the trees, sun dry (them), and prepare them for cooking.” However, she said, “I have a stove inside my room but I can’t use it because I don’t have enough to purchase kerosene.”

The nation’s alarming poverty circle, where Iyabo and Oyedele belong, speaks loudly about the reality of clean cooking. Statistics indicate that 63 percent of the entire population mostly relies on traditional method cooking, usually described as ‘dirty’.

The National Council on Climate Change (NCCC) has stated that, aside from the dangers of deforestation and climate destruction, the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking directly affects women’s health. This is in agreement with figures from the Federal Ministry of Environment about how more than 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood.

Aisha Sulaiman, a renewable energy and green hydrogen technologist, said that rising prices of cooking gas have caused many to transition back to the use of firewood and charcoal, leading many women to multiple health issues. She emphasized that women suffer stronger health issues as secondhand smokers.

She said, “In an African setting, women belong to the kitchen; that’s how the narrative is, even if that is not supposed to be. In rural communities, the main source of energy in terms of cooking is the traditional method, which is unsustainable and harmful.

“The traditional methods of cooking involve charcoal and firewood. These are materials that lead to the release of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, into our environment, and this in turn contributes to global warming, which brings about climate change.”

Speaking on women’s health, Sulaiman mentioned that respiratory diseases could stem from inhaling smoke from charcoal and firewood. “These methods are a source of air pollution, which can cause serious health issues. Overexposure to the smoke also leads to a disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is very endemic to women,’’ she said. Sulaiman added that the Nigerian government should prioritize making clean energy accessible and cost-competitive to procure its acceptance by the people in low-income communities.

Ibrahim Muhammad, an energy consultant and team lead at Climate Alaramma Sustainable Development Initiative, a youth-led environmental organization in northern Nigeria, argued that the transition back to the traditional method of cooking would increase deforestation. He said the increase in LPG’s price is connected to the nation’s economic downturn.

In his words, “There is extensive research demonstrating the significant impact of traditional cooking methods on women and children. These methods contribute to deforestation and air pollution, particularly through the emission of smoke.”

Muhammad noted that women’s transition to traditional cooking was a setback in Nigeria’s transition plan to energy, especially in the area of clean cooking.

The Nigerian government and international development partners must find avenues for cleaning cooking infrastructure to be subsidized so that rural communities, mostly affected, can be able to afford it. According to him, “Considering the nature of some communities that are into agriculture, they are expected to be supported with infrastructure that can help them use this agricultural waste to cook.  Additionally, the prices of these clean cooking stoves that are being developed are subsidized.”

Speaking further on alternatives, he added, “Briquettes, produced from agricultural waste, typically resemble charcoal and can perform all the functions of charcoal. They are energy-efficient and made from various agricultural waste materials, thus not promoting deforestation.”

Muhammad added that harmless solutions should be created to fit in Nigeria’s context; electric stoves may be considered impossible due to unstable electricity.

“Solar cookers are typically used when it is sunny, but many people hardly have lunch, they mostly focus on breakfast and dinner. Many women cook early in the morning or evening, so we need to tailor solutions to our specific circumstances,’’ he said.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Air Quality Sensors Boosting Nairobi’s Fight Against Air Pollution

Africa, Climate Action, Conferences, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Health, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


A mother and her children are seen wading through a cloud of smoke at the Dandora dumpsite, Kenya's largest open landfill. Smoke emanating from the dumpsite is cited as a contributor to air pollution in Nairobi. Credit: Jackson Okata/IPS

A mother and her children are seen wading through a cloud of smoke at the Dandora dumpsite, Kenya’s largest open landfill. Smoke emanating from the dumpsite is cited as a contributor to air pollution in Nairobi. Credit: Jackson Okata/IPS

NAIROBI, Feb 29 2024 (IPS) – Deborah Adhiambo (43) has been battling mild asthma since 2022, a condition she describes as “both a health and economic burden.’’ The mother of three lives within Dandora Estate, nine miles east of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Dandora is home to Kenya’s largest open landfill, which receives more than 2,000 metric tonnes of waste daily.

For five years, Adhiambo operated a makeshift restaurant near the dumpsite, where her main clients were waste pickers working within its environs.

“Working near the dumpsite exposed me to the heavy smoke that billows from the dumpsite. I started developing chest pains gradually and would take painkillers to subdue the pain. It was later that I was diagnosed with asthma,’’ Adhiambo told IPS.

Adhiambo’s doctors told her that prolonged and constant exposure to toxic fumes was the root cause of her asthma. She was forced to close her business since she could not venture out of her house early in the morning, late in the evenings or during cold seasons.

“The closure of my business due to sickness crippled me economically as it was my only source of income. Getting medication and feeding my family has been hard because now I have to rely on my husband, who also works at the dumpsite,” she says.

Nairobi’s Air Quality

More than 70 percent of Nairobi’s 5.3 million residents live in informal settlements like Dandora, which analysts say have the worst air quality, with vulnerable populations, particularly women and children, bearing the brunt of polluted air. Vehicles, open burning of waste, and industrial emissions are cited as the major sources of air pollutants in Nairobi. Motor vehicles contribute an estimated 40 percent of Nairobi’s particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution concentrations, with illegal dumping and open waste burning contributing 25 percent.

And as both the population and economic output of Kenya’s capital keep expanding, the demand for energy from fossil fuels is also on the rise. The rapid expansion of Nairobi has taken an environmental toll on the city, which is evident in the worsening air pollution levels.  Air pollution in Kenya’s capital is 4.2 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended average annual concentration levels.

According to the World Health Organization, Nairobi’s air pollution is 2.4 times higher than recommended levels, with 19,000 poor air quality deaths being reported in Kenya annually.

Air photo 1- A technician installs a low-cost air quality monitor sensor in Nairobi, Kenya. Air quality monitors are helping Nairobi collect data on air pollution. Credit: Jackson Okata/IPS

A technician installs a low-cost air quality monitor sensor in Nairobi, Kenya. Air quality monitors are helping Nairobi collect data on air pollution. Credit: Jackson Okata/IPS

Tech and Data

To enhance her efforts in combating air pollution, the City of Nairobi has been incorporating the use of technology. The city management has been installing low-cost air quality monitors and sensors to gather and share data on the levels of air pollution trends across the city. The data collected is then analyzed and guided in the formulation of policies and legal frameworks to combat air pollution, even as East Africa’s economic giant works towards realizing her ambitious target of becoming a net-zero green city by 2030.

Dubbed AirQo monitors, the low-cost air quality sensors developed by a team of young engineering and computer science students at Uganda’s Makerere University are in use in eight countries, including Kenya.

Engineer Bainomugisha, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Makerere University and lead developer of the AirQo monitoring system, says Sub-Saharan Africa lacks usable air quality data that can help in the formulation of proper and effective policies to combat air pollution. AirQo monitors collect information about air pollution levels, types of air pollutants, and air quality

Bainomugisha explains that the air quality monitors main aim is to “close the existing gap in air quality monitoring.” AirQo air quality monitors collect air samples, which are then analyzed through a light scattering technology that quantifies the particulate matter concentration.

The information is then relayed to a cloud-based network that determines the pollution levels in a specific area. The devices measure the air particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10, which is a mixture of solid particles in the air. They also capture ambient meteorological conditions such as humidity and atmospheric pressure

“The air quality monitors run on a 2G GSM-enabled network configuration for loT sim cards and are optimized to work in areas with unstable internet and power connectivity,” says Gideon Lubisia, AirQo’s international operations embedded systems and network support engineer.

AirQo has also developed a mobile app that allows people to receive periodic and real-time updates on the air quality in their city.  The monitors are mounted at strategic points within the city’s Central Business District, industrial areas, markets, along major city highways and in select residential areas. while others are mounted on motorbikes that move from one location to another, collecting data.

Data and Policy Formulation

With the monitors in place, Nairobi City has been able to develop two air quality collocation installations and infrastructure reference grade monitors, according to Nairobi City County Deputy Director in Charge of Air Quality and Climate Maurice Kavai.

“The one-stop center collocation enables our research teams to compare air quality data collected from various points within the city, which is key in developing appropriate action,” Kivai explained.

“The availability of periodic data collected by the monitors enables the city to establish the extent of pollution in particular areas, identify the causes, and develop necessary actions,” he said.

Through air quality data collected through the monitors and establishing the extent of air pollution in the city, Nairobi has been able to develop a city Air Quality Action Plan as well as enact the Nairobi City County Air Quality Act which have become critical policy and legal assets in tackling the problem of air pollution.

AirQo monitors are now in use within select cities in eight African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Burundi, Ghana, Mozambique, and Senegal.

Global Push for Clean Air

During the Climate and Clean Air Conference(CCAC) 2024 in Nairobi between February 21 and 23, 2024, ahead of the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), member states and partners launched a Clean Air Flagship effort to provide, among other things, data-led policy action towards combating air pollution

Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, said, “We need to push harder on superpollutants. Just as you need a superhero to defeat a supervillain, we need super solutions to face down super pollutants. And we need you to mastermind these solutions.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the CCAC, Kenyan environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti observed that “the very essence of life starts with a breath, a gasp of air that signifies the beginning of our journey on this Earth. Yet, for too many across our globe, this fundamental act of breathing has become a hazard, a risk, and a gamble against the odds of pollution and climate-induced adversities.” According to Wathuti, the commitment to clean air and a stable climate is not just an environmental cause but a fight for the very right to life.

The World Health Organization estimates that 99 percent of the world’s population lives in places with poor air quality, leading to nearly seven million premature deaths per year, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

According to UNEP, in Africa alone, ambient air pollution caused an estimated 400,000 premature deaths in 2019, while indoor air pollution caused more than one million premature deaths in the same year. Some of the leading air pollution-related ailments that contribute to these premature deaths include pneumonia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer. Ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually.

IPS UN Bureau Report