Nairobi billboards live-stream air pollution on the “International Day of Clean Air for blue skies”

Nairobi, 9 September 2021 -- Clean air is an essential need for life. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. As the world rapidly urbanises, air quality in cities get worse as traffic, industrialisation and energy use increase.

September 7th marks the “International Day of Clean Air for blue skies” with the 2021 theme of #HealthyAirHealthyPlanet. With support from UN-Habitat’s Urban Pathways project, and in collaboration of telecom provider Safaricom, UN Environment, IQAir, Nairobi County among others, digital billboards were set up around Kenya’s capital Nairobi to live stream the city’s real-time air pollution in an effort to increase air quality awareness.

“This is the first time in East Africa and arguably all of Africa, where we are able to take air pollution data and stream it to these digital billboards in an easy-to-understand manner. The colours you see in these billboards give you a level of urgency in terms of the quality of air whether it's good, moderate or hazardous - and it goes up in scales,” Sean Khan, who leads the urban air quality monitoring efforts for UN Environment, said in a virtual workshop held that day.

The workshop brought together more than 200 participants including government, academia, private sector, international organisations and civil society to discuss the importance of air quality monitoring and awareness raising.


Mamo B. Mamo, Director General of the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya added: “Clean Air is a public good. No other natural resource exhibits the same degree of publicness as air. If for example the water is polluted, we have the choice to refuse to take this water. But unfortunately, we have no choice when it comes to the air around us. We must breathe.”

He reiterated that traffic emissions, as well as poor solid waste management, have been identified among the leading causes of air pollution in major cities in Kenya.

The workshop discussed the efforts undertaken by the Kenyan government to tackle air pollution including the expansion of walkways to decongest the inner city areas, as well as the development of the Bus Rapid Transit system.

During the workshop, Safaricom committed to share its infrastructure (base stations, telecom poles) to mount air quality monitoring devices, which would help in expanding monitoring efforts across the country. The move will address some of the current challenges such as reliable access to internet connectivity, access to power, and security concerns. 

Cyprine Mitchell, Coordinator, of Critical Mass Nairobi, also advocating for better air, added: “Today being the International Day of Clean Air, we are out here on (Nairobi road) Mbagathi Way and we are calling out on everyone to embrace sustainable modes of transport to protect the environment. We want to get other road users on to bicycles.”

Critical Mass is a social movement that brings bike enthusiasts together for urban rides to promote road safety and environmental benefits.