Air Quality Monitoring with the UN in Kenya



Author: Priyanka deSouza

At the 2014 inaugural UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA), sickness air pollution, sildenafil responsible for 7 million deaths annually according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), was identified to be a top priority to be addressed by the international community. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was mandated to help governments set standards and policies across multiple sectors to reduce emissions, and manage the negative impacts of air pollution on health, the economy and sustainable development.


It is clear that in order to set air quality standards and policies accurate, reliable data on air quality is required. This is because data on air pollution in a region can enable the identification of pollution hot spots and local source apportionment of air pollution. In turn, this will then allow appropriate, data driven legislation to be put in place to tackle the root causes of bad air quality.

However, there are few credible air quality monitoring stations around the world. Historically, this has been because of two key reasons:

  1. Cost: Current high precision air quality monitoring stations are prohibitively expensive, costing between $150,000 to $200,000;
  2. The current state of sensor technology: The calibration of current sensors in highly polluted environments has not been undertaken. This means that data from such sensors in regions such as New Delhi or Beijing are not credible.


The Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) of UNEP thus contracted the development of an affordable, mobile air quality monitoring unit, costing < $1500 that can function well in highly polluted climates, as a first step in helping countries, especially in the developing world, to collect reliable air quality data. A network of 50 of the new monitoring units that DEWA envisages will cost $75,000 — much less than the cost of the single high quality monitoring station currently available on the market. Data from such a network can be used to generate a map of air quality in a region.

Finally, the units can be programmed to ‘talk’ to each other, and calibrate each other, when aligned in the same microenvironment, thus improving the accuracy of the data.


I moved to Kenya on July 7th, 2015 to work as an intern at the United Nations Environmental Program headquarters in Nairobi on the development and deployment of this system. My internship was unpaid. The Skoll Apprenticing with a Problem grant covered my living expenses during this time and enabled me to work on this project. I am deeply grateful for the support I received as I would not have been able to do my internship otherwise.

The contractors for this project had examined previous air quality measurement studies and had chosen the best available sensors on the market for the development of the monitoring unit. I aided them in developing a visualization app using the software: ArcGIS, as well as in the testing of the unit in Nairobi.

The monitoring system was officially launched on August 31st in Nairobi. The Executive Director of UNEP as well as Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of the Environment were present at the launch. Following the official ribbon cutting we set the unit on the top of a bus, and drove around in the bus with journalists so that they could see the real time data the box was producing.


Post the launch we were inundated by requests from citizens and national environmental agencies from 29 different countries for our unit. We are currently working on creating a documentation page with full information on the components of out system, as well as instructions on how to assemble the same. We will make these blueprints freely available as a global public good in order to allow countries/citizens to manufacture/buy/assemble our units as they see fit. UNEP will license the box for quality assurance under the Creative Commons. We will be releasing this package on our platform to the world in the next few weeks.

I am now working on writing up project proposals for the deployment of a network of our units in different cities around the world. For more information on our unit- please see the attached leaflet.