What’s the problem?
Poor air quality causes one in eight deaths worldwide—more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined—according to a recent World Health Organization report. Unless mitigation measures are taken, this problem will only increase in the future with population and development. Air quality problems are rising quickly in developing countries; unfortunately, these countries often lack the funds and/or scientific capacity to measure air quality.
In Rwanda, a developing country in East Africa, researchers have measured levels of air pollution well over the recommended World Health Organization limits. Exhaust from older diesel vehicles, agricultural emissions, and smoke from cookfires, exasperated by a dusty climate, are thought to be the cause of this high pollution. The government of Rwanda enacted new vehicular emission regulations in January 2015, one of the first large-scale air pollution mitigation steps in the region, and more efficient cookstove initiatives are attempting to address another major source of air pollution.
However, no continuous air quality measurement stations have been established as of yet. With no continuous measurements in different areas of the country, it is difficult to 1) determine the largest source of pollution for effective future regulations and 2) illustrate the efficacy of new clean air regulations and initiatives. Cost-effective air quality monitoring sites need to be established and capacity needs to be built in-country to analyze and interpret air quality data.
What do we want to do?
1. Establish a low-cost air quality sensor network in Kigali, Rwanda
Currently, MIT is collaborating with the government of Rwanda to construct a climate observatory in the mountains of Rwanda. A team of scientists is now measuring greenhouse gases and black carbon aerosol concentrations in the Virunga mountains, located in the Northern Provence of Rwanda.
We want to expand our project into measurement, outreach, and capacity building focused on air quality. We seek to establish a stationary network of low-cost air quality monitors around Kigali, the capitol city of Rwanda, measuring both particulate concentrations (PM2.5, or particulate matter 2.5 microns or less, the pollutant most responsible for pollution-associated health effects) and common gas-phase pollutants (which will allow source apportionment of air pollution to be modeled). Additionally, PM2.5 monitors will be placed on mobile platforms (on motorcycle taxis equipped with smart phones and GPS tracking, part of the SafeMoto startup initiative in Kigali) and will be used to obtain a map of pollution at the street level throughout the city. These monitors will be networked to the internet and deliver data to the public near real-time. A website will be established to display the data.
2. Network MIT and Rwandan students to work in parallel
Significant amounts of data will be generated by this project, and will need to be analyzed. Instruments purchased will include sensors currently used on the MIT campus and in the MIT Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry class. By using the same sensors in Rwanda and MIT, this project can be connected to research on the MIT campus and coursework at MIT. Dr. Ron Prinn, Director of the Center for Global Change Science at MIT and PI of the Rwanda Climate Observatory Project, will include a discussion of greenhouse gas, climate, and air quality measurements in Rwanda in his lecture series during the MIT course, introducing MIT students to air quality and climate change in this developing country. Students will be able to download and manipulate the air quality data from the established sensor network, mapping out pollution hotspots and beginning to attribute air pollution to different sources in Rwanda, based on location, local meteorology, and the relative concentration of gas-phase pollutants. Information from this analysis can be used to determine high priority areas to focus mitigation efforts of air pollution in Rwanda. This will introduce the class to research in a developing country, real-world data analysis, and the intersection of science and policy.
MIT students will also be working in parallel with University of Rwanda students. The University of Rwanda is beginning a new Climate Science Master’s Program this fall (2015) and by next year the first class of students will be in the internship phase of their studies, a perfect time to work with air quality data together with the MIT Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry class. Students in Rwanda can benefit from the knowledge and resources of the MIT students while using personal experience and knowledge of local air quality issues to help guide the data analysis. During this phase of the project, MIT Research Scientist Dr. Langley DeWitt and MIT graduate student Jimmy Gasore, both based in Kigali, Rwanda, will facilitate interactions between University of Rwanda students and MIT Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry students, as well as any other interested students.
How can you help?
We seek additional funding to purchase and deploy the network of low-cost air quality sensors in Kigali, Rwanda.
This project will focus on connecting MIT students to scientific research in a developing country, building in-country capacity in Rwanda, and increasing public awareness of this major health issue in developing countries. The expertise of MIT’s community will help build capacity in Rwanda while Rwandan students teach MIT students about air quality issues in their country. In this way, we can harness the brainpower of the MIT community while exposing MIT students and the greater MIT community to research in Rwanda. We will expand the reach of the Rwanda Climate Observatory Project, funded by generous MIT donors.