The AIR Network visit Nairobi

In January 2018, Dr Cressida Bowyer, CCI Enterprise and Innovation Senior Research Fellow, and the AIR (Air Pollution and Interdisciplinary Research) Network travelled to Nairobi to work with local communities to discuss the topic of air pollution.

Air pollution is an increasing problem in developed and developing countries, with deprived communities hit hardest.

The main geographical focus of the AIR Network is the Mukuru informal settlement, Nairobi, Kenya More than 100,000 families live in densely packed settlements squeezed between factories. The housing conditions are extremely poor and there are no formal water or sewerage connections. Levels of air pollution are particularly high in informal settlements, both outdoor and indoor: outdoor due to transport, local industry and burning of waste; and indoor due to cooking, lighting and heating with low-quality fuels in badly ventilated huts. Despite this, the Mukuru community is resilient, vibrant and innovative.

Previous attempts to improve air pollution and reduce exposure have been carried out in Nairobi’s informal settlements in recent years, but significant effects on health and well-being have not been reported. The AIR Network is exploring new community-led approaches which may be more relevant and have more impact.

A 4 day interactive workshop brought together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, practitioners and community members in an effort to learn more about each other and the local context, develop a common language, and design a work plan. On day one, the team co-wrote and agreed a working contract to ensure an inclusive and non-judgemental atmosphere. A range of communication methods were used, including play, song and forum theatre, as well as post-it notes, concept maps and tree diagrams.

By the end of the week they had devised action plans for four mini-project topics:

• Raising awareness
• Mukuru-led solutions
• Engaging with industry
• Policy and governance

These projects will be carried out over the coming months. Each project will develop new, innovative and co-designed outputs to explore awareness of air quality, and identify possible solutions and mitigations. Methods include participatory mapping of pollution hotspots; story-gathering, music, street games and street art; improved health education on air pollution; and lobbying local industry and policy makers.

It was a fantastic week and the team were quite emotional when they had to say goodbye. Most of them had not experienced such democratic and creative working practices before, and local community members reported that, for the first time, they felt valued as participants and co-researchers.

The AIR (Air pollution Interdisciplinary Research) Network is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Global Challenges Research Fund Partnership Award, and is being led by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York. Dr Bowyer is Co-Investigator with 28 project partners from Kenya, Sweden and the UK. UoP colleagues Professor Joan Farrer and Professor Anoop Chauhan sit on the advisory board.

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