Bus Rapid Transit in Nairobi: A Matatu Driver’s Perspective

By Joe Nderitu

Public transport in Kenya is mainly dominated by the informal sector. This sector has registered tremendous growth after individual bus and van owners formed and joined the co-operative movement (Saccos) which works symbiotically with the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) an arm of the government. Conditions for workers in the informal transport sector are often very poor, and some workers have joined together and formed a registered trade union Public Transport Operators Union (PUTON) which I chair to champion their labour rights. PUTON together with trade unions in developing countries around the globe developed an informal transport workers charter that we are presenting to our respective governments and transport authorities to get recognition.


Matatus dominate the public transport sector in Kenya-what is their future?

The transport industry in Kenya is locally called the matatu sector, and you will find different forms of this transit in the 47 counties created by the new Kenyan constitution. Nairobi county, the capital city of Kenya, has experienced exponential growth due to rural to urban migration and this has led to stress on its infrastructure. Formal transport (commuter rail, former bus service) is one example of an urban infrastructure that has not met the demands of the city and wider metropolitan region. This is in part because the government failed to properly invest in this important service. In the past, Nairobi had good bus service that matched the expectations of the city but this collapsed and paved way for the informal mode of transit, the matatu, to be dominant and fulfill the demands of the growing population in the city.

The government has been struggling to regulate the transport industry but usually by punishing the sector rather than working with it on solutions. Recently, for example some disturbing statements have been coming from the government. A transport minister once said that the matatu industry thrives in chaos and would not like to get organized. A chief officer in charge of transport in the county government of Nairobi equated our public transport to informal settlements that needed to be eradicated. An official at the Ministry of Transport put it clearly that there was no room for improving the matatu industry and the government had decided that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was the way to go.


Bus Rapid Transit in Dar Es Salaam-what about improvements outside these corridors?

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a system touted to be environmental friendly, clean and formal. BRT components include bus stations with off board fare collection points, parking slots, washrooms, dedicated bus lanes, non motorized transit routes, big long buses etc. The government of Kenya through the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) with their symbiotic partner City Star Shuttle bus company had a deal and decided to give Kenyans a taste of what mass transit is by bringing in one big articulated bus on the streets of Nairobi. The bus was 17 metres long and was issued with a temporary license and permit to provide transport services in the city.

This was a noble move and idea, but I believe there was some external influence that allowed this bus to operate illegally on our Kenyan roads. The bus appeared not to be registered, and did not conform to the NTSA Act 2012 regulations which public service vehicles (PSVs) are supposed to respect. Fare collection on this bus was in form of cash, whereas in a BRT system it should have a station where pre paid and off board fare collection is enhanced;  this big bus was one component of the BRT system but not BRT. BRT uses dedicated bus lanes. The big bus on the streets of Nairobi operated on the same lanes as other motorists sometimes bulldozing itself in your way. BUS RAPID TRANSIT (BRT) IS NOT A BIG LONG BUS!

Further research by our union showed that the driver of this long articulated bus was not promoted from within the City Shuttle bus workforce. This brings to the fore the concern of informal transport workers around how BRT is going to accommodate informal transport workers and provide education and training to improve urban transport. In neighbouring Tanzania, BRT buses don’t have conductors, drivers use microphones fitted on buses to communicate to passengers. Is this the plan for Nairobi? How many jobs will be lost and what will be done to support the many poor when they lose their jobs?

Outering road in Nairobi that connects Thika superhighway to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport next to Mombasa road is one road that  is supposed to have a BRT infrastructure but the designs have flaws. Further, such a BRT system should not be an isolated corridor but have linkage to rail, non-motorised transit that include bicycles and the road transport network. Are there plans for this?

There is no public information neither from the government of Kenya and from the county government on Nairobi about BRT plans. Project Information Document (PID) and Integrated Safeguards Data Sheet (ISDS) from the World Bank are not on the public domain and neither do transport workers understand how these BRT projects will impact their jobs, welfare or wider social justice concerns which includes passenger welfare. These concerns should be raised to these International Financial Institutions funding transport related projects in these region and PUTON is calling out for support from allies to address these issues before the BRT project is implemented.

By the look at things in the city of Nairobi, a lot of better planning by city planners and the Ministry of Transport and dialogue by stakeholders needs to be done to accommodate BRT and to advise whether there are other alternatives,. Can the BRT system be really owned by Kenyans? My worry is that Nairobi city cannot be like Rio De Janeiro, Johannesburg, London, Lagos, Bogota or neighbouring Dar es Salaam but BRT standards should not be lowered to suit the politics of our city. Another issue is how will matatu service feeding into a BRT be improved? Without addressing this problem transport service for many, including the poorest, will not improve. And what will the cost of the BRT be for people and taxpayers?  Let us engage in a critical dialogue about BRT and also assess the alternative approaches as the funds provided for these projects are loans, not grants and they will be paid back with interest by Kenyan taxpayers.

Joe Nderitu grew up in the matatu industry and works in the sector in Nairobi County. He is a founder and chairperson of the Public Transport Operators Union which strives to improve conditions for workers and passengers in the matatu industry.

PlaceMaking Week in Nairobi Coming up (November 30th-December 4th)!

NPI is excited to announce Nairobi PlaceMaking Week which will be happening November 30th to December 4th. We encourage our readers in Nairobi to join the exciting events. Cities only improve when citizens advocate and support needed changes-get out there and make Nairobi a better place and have some fun while at it!


Wednesday (30 Nov), 9 am to 17 pm: Jevanjee Garden and surrounding streets.
Street painting, Pop Up Plazas, Bus Rapid Transit Exhibition
Join us in painting our roads while creating awareness of Non-Motorized Transport safety.

Friday (2 Dec), 6-8.30 pm: Urban Dialogue – Alchemist Bar
Inspiring talks by urban change makers from various backgrounds.

Sunday (4 Dec), 9am to 12 pm: Critical Mass Event around CBD
A whole loop in the CBD will be closed down – this will be a unique opportunity to illustrate that Nairobi has a critical mass that cycles.
Come with bikes and bring friends along.


Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is in Nairobi! Interview with Engineer Chris Kost

NPI: What is your background? How did you come to work for ITDP?

Cities today face the critical task of reducing inequality while also minimizing their contribution to global climate change. My interest in tackling these twin challenges first led me to ITDP in 2003, when I worked on an assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Cape Town, South Africa. I later joined ITDP’s India office at the end of 2007. We helped implement India’s first high quality BRT system, known as Janmarg, in the city of Ahmedabad, and went on to work with a number of other Indian cities to create better public transport, usable footpaths, and transit-oriented development policies. I am now heading ITDP’s Nairobi office where we work to ensure a sustainable, equitable future for African cities.

NPI: Can you describe some of your work on transportation in Nairobi? What are the challenges and also opportunities?

With a population approaching 4 million people, Nairobi is in urgent need of a safe, modern, and efficient public transport system. The most viable way to bring high quality service to the majority of Nairobi residents is to develop a bus rapid transit (BRT) system along the city’s main roads. A BRT system would offer faster travel in dedicated bus lanes, stepless boarding from central stations, and convenient smart-card ticketing. The timely deployment of BRT also has tremendous potential to transform the city’s matatu industry, helping to grow the mode share of public transport in the city and improving working conditions for operators.

Over the past several years, ITDP has been providing support to national and local government agencies on the development of an integrated BRT network in the metropolitan region. As part of these efforts, ITDP prepared a service plan for BRT Line 1, which runs from James Gichuru to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on the A104. We are now working to ensure that the service plan’s findings are used to shape the infrastructure designs along the corridor and that the designs for Line 1 mesh with the plans for other BRT corridors in the city.


Dar es Salaam recently launched a Bus Rapid Transit System  

NPI: Setting up a new program and office must be exciting! As Africa Program Director, what is your vision for work moving forward? Who would you like to partner with and what would you like to accomplish in the coming years?

As we begin to deepen our presence in the region, we look forward to expanding our activities in Kenya and launching work in new cities. We welcome partnerships with like-minded organizations, individuals, and cities. Our vision is one where cities put people before cars, one where residents, workers, and visitors, both young and old, can safely walk or cycle to their daily activities. We also want to create more affordable cities, where jobs and services are a short bus or BRT ride away, allowing residents to put money that otherwise would have been spent on driving to more productive uses. These are the kinds of cities that are attractive to us today—cities with less congestion, less pollution, fewer accidents, and healthier, safer, more productive communities.

ITDP recently began working with the County Government of Kisumu, helping prepare the first comprehensive mobility plan for Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city. ITDP is conducting workshops, focus groups, and scoping surveys to assess the opportunities and challenges. Working with local stakeholders, we will develop an action plan for critical transport improvements relating to walking and cycling, boda bodas, public transport, and parking management. ITDP is also working with Kiambu County to improve pedestrian facilities in the Ruiru town centre and to develop an urban transport policy that outlines how transport investments will be aligned with the county’s goal of establishing a network of compact, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods linked by high quality public transport.


Workshop in Ruiru to discuss improving street design to make walking easier and safer 

NPI: As an expert in transportation looking at Nairobi, what advice would you give the city? What should the priority interventions be?

Besides high quality public transport, Nairobi needs much better facilities for walking and cycling. Most of our major streets lack footpaths, and we don’t have safe pedestrian crossings. As a result, five hundred pedestrians die on the streets of Nairobi every year. In order to end the carnage, we need a network of safe, accessible, at-grade, pedestrian facilities. We need to stop allocating resources to ill-conceived foot overbridges. These bridges are promoted under the pretext of improving pedestrian access, but are primarily intended to facilitate faster movement of personal motor vehicles. As demonstrated by Ma3route’s recent analysis of crash patterns, foot overbridges have not improved pedestrian safety. We need to start making investments in infrastructure that truly benefits the majority of city residents who walk and cycle every day: generous footpaths on all of our streets, traffic calmed crossings, continuous cycle tracks, and better lighting to improve safety at night. These improvements will go a long way toward making Nairobi an equitable city that treats all citizens with respect—regardless of how they move around the city.


Nairobiaccidentmap.com looked at data of crashes for  Nairobi for 6 months and found that 42.5% of accidents involving a pedestrian happened within 500 meters (a distance that takes about 15 minutes to walk) of a footbridgeITDP

NPI: How can people get updates and learn more about ITDP’s work in Nairobi and Africa more generally?imgres

 We welcome everyone to visit our website at    africa.itdp.org and follow us on Twitter (http:/www.twitter.com/itdpafrica) and Facebook (ITDPAfrica). If you’re in Nairobi, we’d be happy to meet up in person. Drop us a line at africa@itdp.org!

Interview with Urban Planner Jeremiah Atho Ougo: Nairobi and The New Urban Agenda

NPI is very pleased to present an interview with Nairobi Urban Planner Jeremiah Atho Ougo who works at the Kenya Desk of UN-Habitat. Architect Activist Anna Oursler conducted the interview and caught up with Planner Atho Ougo in Quito where the New Urban Agenda of Habitat III was being discussed and ratified. 

1) NPI: Explain what brought you to Quito and what made the biggest impression on you so far?

I came to Quito in my capacity as UN-Habitat staff responsible for Country activities. In this capacity, my tasks were to organize side events on Kenya. The biggest impression so far is how Quito has utilized public spaces to enhance NMT (Non-Motorized Transport). The streets are adequately planned for vehicular and pedestrian use. Recreational Parks are accessible to public and this contributes to reduction in  urban crime.


Nairobi needs to enhance Non Motorized Transport such as Walking Ways 


2) What specific elements of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) are particularly important for Nairobi and why?

NUA is about Sustainable Urban Development.  Nairobi needs to embrace urban planning and design as a tool for sustainable urbanization. In doing so, the City must mainstream sustainable urban planning principles into its master planning process. These Principles include densification, mixed land use, public spaces, street design and social integration. The second element of NUA that Nairobi must embrace is enforceable legislation  that buttresses urban planning and design. In doing so, the city must have regulations and rules that guide planning particularly with regard to zoning, plot ratios, plot sizes, minimum and maximum. Thirdly, Nairobi must strengthen its municipal financing by enhancing revenue generation streams so as to maintain stable revenue that can support sustainable urbanization.

3) What are the challenges to implementing the NUA in Nairobi and how will you start working to overcome them?

Social exclusion and segregation are a huge challenge in urban areas, and this will affect social integration. On the other hand, urban sprawl will greatly affect attempts to ensure sustainable urban planning while inadequate financing to implement NUA will be a huge obstacle. It may also be too difficult to bring all actors on board.


Social segregation is a huge problem in Nairobi. Here we see a wall separating the people of Kibera from middle class housing built by the government  


4) What lessons  or ideas from Nairobi have you shared this week and what will you take back to Nairobi from being in Quito?

Nairobi has good lessons that the world can learn from while implementing the NUA. The leadership of the Capital City has developed the Public Spaces Programme that seeks to enhance effective utilization of existing public spaces. Further, the City in collaboration with partners including UN-Habitat, have developed an Inventory of all existing public spaces in the city. This inventory will be a tool that will be used in monitoring the public spaces  in order to put them into better use and reduce chances of land grabbing by private developers.

jeremiah Jeremiah Atho Ougo is an Urban Planner currently working at UN-Habitat’s Kenya Desk in the Regional Office for Africa. He previously worked as a Physical Planner with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where he supervised shelter, physical planning and infrastructure provision to refugees and host communities living in the Dadaab refugee camps and environs. Jeremiah was also part of the team that prepared (on behalf of Devolution and Planning and Land Housing & Urban Development Ministries) sustainable Integrated Urban Development Plans for various towns in Kenya including Othaya town. He holds a bachelor of Urban Planning degree of Makerere University and a master degree in Project Planning & Management from the University of Nairobi and sits in the Governing Council of the Kenya Institute of Planners as Assistant Registrar and Corporate Member. He is also a registered Lead EIA/EA Expert with the National Environment Management Authority.

Ubabi Vanpooling: Shared Mobility for Nairobi’s Driving Class

NPI invited entrepreneur Sellina Ayoma Omollo, Director of Ubabi Vanpooling, a new transportation company, to share her thoughts on what brought her to start this new business which aims to get the car driving class in Nairobi into shared mobility.

It has been said that a crisis is an opportunity in disguise. If so, then there is no greater opportunity in Nairobi today than that of decongesting road traffic. As a matter of fact, the topic of traffic congestion was a campaign issue in the 2012 Nairobi Gubernatorial race. Immediately following his election, Governor Evans Kidero formed the Nairobi Metropolitan Region Traffic Decongestion Committee. This committee has since employed several interventions such as expansion of roads, introduction of bypasses, blocking roundabouts, introduction of one way traffic in the Central Business District, removal of right turns and increment of parking fees. Despite all these efforts, the situation seems to persist and even worsen.

This scenario warrants a reexamination of the problem to unearth the underlying causes in order to find appropriate solutions. According to the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KiPPRA) 2015 report, the cost of traffic jams in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region was estimated at KES 1.9 billion annually, on account of additional time spent on travel due to congestion. Other negative effects include decreased productivity and health risks caused by air pollution and stress.

Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya has a current estimated population of 3.5 million. A study of the largest cities in the world by population such as Tokyo/Yokohama (33.2 million); New York Metro (17.8 million); Paris (9.2 million) and London (8.2 million) shows interesting transit patterns. The key observation is the vast number of people travel at any given time, day or night. The amazing thing is that almost everyone is on public transport in these cities!

Nairobi on the other hand, despite the much lower population, is congested due to the overwhelming number of low occupancy personal cars being driven. In the past two decades, the rising middle class alongside the affordability of vehicles from Japan has resulted in increased traffic jams. Unfortunately, this trend is the complete opposite of the desired movement towards sustainable living as envisioned in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which Kenya is a signatory.

A keen look at the public transport options in Nairobi would explain why the residents prefer to drive to work regardless of the high costs and stress associated with it. The public transport options are often unprofessional and unreliable. Matatus for example are designed to make the passenger as uncomfortable as possible: Loud music, offensive graffiti and irregular routes and fares are the order of the day. Buses and trains on the other hand are not easily accessible and are few in number.


Ubabi Vanpooling envisions spacious, clean vehicles fitted with seat belts to appeal to the driving class

Perhaps it is time to rethink the strategies for solving the challenge of traffic congestion in Nairobi. It is time to provide ‘luxury public transport’ that will appeal to the driving class. Vanpooling for instance is an option that will provide convenience and comfort. Vanpooling is an arrangement between coworkers or neighbours who commit to travel the same way to work and back for a specific period of time. The vans are spacious, clean, fitted with seat belts and most of all have no graffiti. The drivers are courteous and professionally trained. Passengers can relax during the commute and even work if they wish. Payments are in easy and convenient monthly subscriptions by cashless means. The cashless system also helps curb interference by cartels.

At a first glance, vanpooling may not seem to make much difference. However at closer look the difference is evident. For example, if four resident associations would embrace this option and each hire at least one 25-seater van, that would be 100 less personal vehicles on the roads. The convenience and comfort one enjoys in their personal vehicle would still be maintained.  Once this model is operationalized, it would significantly reduce traffic congestion in Nairobi.


Sellina Ayoma Omollo is  a 36 year old pastor’s wife and a mother of three. She holds a PhD in Human Nutrition and is currently the Director of Ubabi Vanpooling society. She became interested in sustainable transportation out of frustration with the road traffic congestion in Nairobi. Frustrated with the “pathetic public transportation system in Kenya”, she created Ubabi Vanpooling, which seeks to reduce traffic congestion in Nairobi by providing luxury group transportation options Sellina can be reached at ubabivanpooling@gmail.com  

Facebook: Ubabi luxury vanpooling Twitter: @ubabivanpooling

Battling Sexual Harassment in Kenyan Public Transport: The Flone Initiative: An Interview with Co-Founder Naomi Mwaura

Sexual harassment in public transport is a global problem.  Kenya is no exception. Every day tens of thousands of women making trips in Public Service Vehicles (matatus) face unacceptable behavior from their fellow male passengers making mobility a dangerous and uncomfortable experience.

In an effort to make travel safer and more comfortable for women, one Kenyan organization, the FLONE Initiative, is combating sexual harassment on public transportation in Kenya . NPI bloggers Seth  Kerr and Jacqueline Klopp conducted an extended interview with Naomi Mwaura, a co-founder of The FLONE Initiative. Naomi not only helps combat sexual harassment through this Initiative but is also committed to helping all people in Kenya have access to equitable transportation as a dedicated staff member for the Institute for Transportation Development Policy (ITDP) which recently set up shop in Nairobi.


Women rely on pubic transport and often face harassment Photo: courtesy Digital Matatus

NPI: How did the FLONE Initiative get started ?

I grew up watching my uncles’ work as public vehicle drivers, conductors and cleaners. From this upbringing, I did not see the matatu industry as a lost cause but as a misunderstood and neglected industry. My family grew financially through the industry. At one time, I was physically assaulted by public vehicle conductors while the rest of the public transport operators stood by and watched. How could I reconcile the two realities? As a result FLONE initiative came into being. For several years, through FLONE Initiative, I have been working with the main aim of improving the lives of public transport operators, creating safe spaces for women in the public transport network and changing the matatu industry for the better.

NPI: What are the overall goals of the FLONE Initiative?

a. To be the premier workforce development organization for public transport workers.

b. To Prevent sexual harassment and violence in the Kenyan public transport industry

c. To be the leading authority on the status of women in transportation

NPI:  What are the details of the FLONE Initiative’s Public Safety Certification Program?

The public safety certification program trains public transport providers on prevention of sexual violence, gender equality, customer service and on personal and professional development. Another focus area is increasing reporting of sexual violence through the use of a crowd mapping platform and SMS reporting platforms. We also strive overall to create awareness on the prevalence of sexual violence meted against women in the Kenyan public transport network.

NPI: How many people working in the public transportation sector has your initiative trained so far?

The FLONE Initiative has so far trained 312 public transport workers in Bungoma, Githurai 45, Kisumu, Nyeri and Nakuru. These are public transport networks with most recurring incidences of violence.

NPI: What are the biggest challenges facing women who use public transport in Kenya?

Transportation influences access to education, jobs, health services and social activities. Men are more likely to have access to private means of transport than women. Thus, making public transport safe for the women and girls will enable women to easily get access to services whenever they need to. For instance a woman can attend evening classes without fear of victimization while using public transport.

NPI: What has the response been from the transportation sector?

Many have embraced the initiative and are very much willing to work with us while others feel it a lost battle.

NPI: How have women responded to your organization’s efforts?

Response so far is very positive since many view the program as a solution to a problem that has been affecting them for such a long time.


Kenyan women protest against violent sexual harassment See the story by Esther Wanjiku here

NPI:  How can women report the sexual harassment they face? 

By alerting the Initiative website on the Ushahidi platform or by simply calling the helpline No.1195

NPI:  How effective has the police system and judicial system been in combating sexual harassment? Do perpetrators face justice in Kenya?

There are currently 6 public transport operators in jail for stripping a lady in Kayole. The victim forgave the perpetrators and made a formal request to withdraw the case but the DPP intervened stating that the case was a matter of public state hence, could not be withdrawn by the victim. There are 5 perpetrators in court for sexually assaulting a lady by inserting a bottle in a matatu. In both of these cases, bail was denied. Sadly most of these incidences go unreported, and those that are reported lack enough evidence and/or follow-up to persecute perpetrators.

NPI: What are the main challenges the FLONE Initiative faces in combating sexual harassment in the public transportation sector?

Funding to implement and upscale the public safety certification program is the FLONE Initiative’s main challenge.

NPI: What would you like to see improved overall in the matatu sector from the perspective of women passengers and workers and what do you think the government needs to do to make these improvements?

That women and girls feel safe while using the matatus as well as more women venturing in the public transport industry for career opportunities. We commend the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) efforts to ensure women’s safety and security in public transport by suspending SACCOs (matatu cooperatives) found guilty of harassing women. The government needs to ensure that matatu workers who are perpetrators of violence are seriously punished in accordance to the law. The perpetrators of uncouth habits should also be severely punished by denying them licenses to operate. Additionally, those doing well should be rewarded and used as models for the other.

NPI: Will Nairobi’s new Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (NaMATA) have any initiatives or resources to combat sexual harassment?

NaMATA through its partnership with the County Government of Nairobi hopes to improve and manage the transport systems to make it efficient, safe, reliable and sustainable. In regards to resources or initiatives to combat sexual harassment so far we are not aware of any.


NPI: What are some of your activities and how can people get involved?

Currently, we are implementing the Usalama wa Uma Program. The program engages public transport operators by offering trainings on gender equality and prevention of sexual violence, customer service, and in personal and professional development. Individuals and organizations can support us both in kind and financially. Moreover, by working together to stop perpetration of harassment as it occurs on the streets and matatu terminals will be of such great help. We are also implementing the Women In Transportation Program (WITrans). WITrans aims to identify and bridge workforce gap in the transportation industry by promoting careers for women in the transportation industry. WITrans ultimately aims to attract, retain and advance women in the transportation industry.

NPI:  Is the Flone Initiative partnering with any other organizations attempting to combat sexual harassment too?

Yes. Flone Initiative has partnered with Men Engage Kenya Network (MENKEN) to train public transport operators on gender and sexuality and on prevention of sexual harassment.

With sexual harassment of women happening across so many differentiating factors like nationality, ethnicity, race, religion and age, what do you believe the root causes of this behavior are? When men are taught to be dominant and aggressive, this often leads to negative masculinity as a result they tend to prove their prowess by harassing women and girls who are viewed as the weaker sex.

NPI: Are there other methods Kenyans should be utilizing to combat sexual harassment too?

Yes, by promoting men’s positive roles in preventing violence against women. Work with men and boys will need to be scaled up. To truly transform gender inequalities, we must go beyond scattered, small-scale interventions and efforts (no matter how effective), towards systematic, large-scale, and coordinated efforts.


Matatus and city streets should be safe for men, women and children. Courtesy: Reality Tested Youth Programme

NPI: What message do you have for the men reading this interview?

Don’t watch as a woman is being harassed and do nothing. Instead stand out and bring sanity to the situation. Remember this could be your sister, mother, wife or daughter. Together we can make the difference.

NPI:What message do you have for the women reading this interview?

Let us work together to ensure that the streets are safe for us and our daughters. Condemn the undressing vice whenever you see it happen. The public transport offers careers as any other sector, and it is high it we ventured into it boldly and fearlessly .

NPI: What does the future look like for the FLONE Initiative; what are the organizations goals for the coming years?

FLONE’s future is very bright,In the coming years, we hope to see the following: public transport certification  incorporated in driving school curriculums, behavioral change in the power dynamics between men and women, more women venturing into the public transport workforce, structures  in place to increase reporting and prosecution of sexual harassment cases, and finally that the success of Flone Initiative programs is replicated in other African countries.

For more information on the FLONE Initiative visit their website or join their facebook page

Naomi Wwaura can also be contacted at naomi@floneinitiative.org

Outer Ring Road: Beyond Compensation for “Project Affected Persons”

By Simon Kokoyo

Open air traders or street vendors have become a common feature along busy roads of Nairobi.  Their welfare is of concern when it comes to road or railway expansion which often affects these hard working people trying to survive. After all, we know the informal economy employs a high number of people who would otherwise be in desperate straits. Unfortunately, the major infrastructure development taking place in Nairobi is slowly creating displacements and destruction of small scale businesses thus increasing vulnerability levels in Nairobi.


Displaced small businessman trying to continue with work in a new location

This is despite some traders being lucky enough to access relocation or disturbance allowance as with case of Outer Ring Open Air Traders. The journey towards compensation is a story in and of itself. Mr. Maina an open air trader along Outer Ring road says this story is one that he would wish to forget. Mr. Maina once owned a vibrant tree nursery and a thriving shoeshine business, but he only managed to relocate his shoeshine business while the tree seedlings were all vandalized.

It all started with a 2014 petition by the open air traders addressed to Kenya Urban Roads Authority and African Development Bank after realizing that both project appraisal and EIA study reports had not fully captured their plight as open air traders. According a study conducted by AfDB, 445 informal traders (hawkers and petty traders) were identified as working along the 13km road a figure which open air traders thought was on the lower side considering Mtindwa Market alone had more than 300 such traders.

Accessing formal employment is not easy for most residents from poor neighborhoods bordering the road corridor. This has led to people starting small businesses next to the road since many residents walk to work and thus they can attract customers on the roadside. The road plays an important link to three industrial zones namely; Kariobangi Light Industries, Baba Dogo and Industrial Area. This has created an opportunity for open air traders to sell their wares easily. Nairobi County markets along the road corridor have been full for the last five years and no new markets have been constructed. Both the national and county governments have not invested in the construction of new markets or spaces for open air traders. This has made it difficult to accommodate the ever increasing number of open air traders and consequently resulted in traders invading walk paths.

The open air traders or street vendors are disadvantaged when negotiating for compensation as “Project Affected People” (PAPs) as they are called in reports  because of the informal nature of their operation and contentious issues related to the space occupied. Seventy five open air traders selling different wares along Outer Ring Road who were not included in the initial RAP discovered it was not a walk in park to face Kenya Roads Authority . Even accessing the final list of PAPs was a challenge. Formal and legally registered entities had their businesses valuation exercises fairly conducted and paid accordingly but open air traders were paid a blanket fee of Kshs. 15,000 (150 USD) as relocation allowance.

The World Bank and AfDB seem to have a clear policies on how issue of PAPs should be handled given that both have fully fledge departments to handle emerging complaints and conflicts on projects being funded by their institutions. This contrasts with how our road agencies such as KenHa, KURA and Kerra operate, even though we have a strong constitution that protects rights and also a new law, the  Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Community Affected Persons Act 2012 to give this life. Usually, civil servants in these institutions are more concerned with building the road regardless of the consequences and generally are very slow in responding to concerns raised by PAPs. The government as well as development partners such as European Union, World Bank and AfDB need to play a more critical role in ensuring economic rights of PAPs are fully guaranteed in these projects as is required by Kenyan law.

Compensating project affected persons does not always lead to improved socio-economic status. This is the case with Outer Ring Road. Now, we have a small population of former open air traders who have been impoverished despite being compensated relocation allowance since they lost access to their customers and relocation is not actually a simple process. The Outer Ring Road experience is showing  that paying PAPs an allowance is not enough.

Mega road projects cutting through densely populated areas disrupt existing social networks. Loans advanced to the government will do better if they could be inclusive of expanding existing social amenities such markets and construction of modern market instead of assuming the government will take its responsibility seriously. This process should be concurrent with the project being undertaken. It is now over four years since the Thika Superhighway was constructed and accessing Githurai market near the roundabout has become more chaotic and dangerous for the pedestrians as the newly constructed walk path and bicycle track have been invaded by open air traders since the market was never relocated, expanded or even constructed. Often, the road agencies pass this responsibility onto counties when they should be working together to mitigate these negative impacts of roads. It is also very poor design on the part of the  road agencies if they do not accommodate all users  of streets in a reasonable way. Githurai market and its activities have obvious high economic value to society.


Small bike rental company operating  in the spaces soon to be a major highway-will cyclists  be safe when the road is finished?

In general, the road sector has more than a dozen agencies and regulations focusing on traffic, road construction, maintenance among others but none that properly addresses open air traders / street vendors working along the road corridor. This is unfortunate considering that compensating PAPs and acquiring land for projects expansion usually takes a big budget. Often large compensation is paid to land speculators who drive up the prices of these projects while the poor are not compensated and supported adequately. The financing agencies seem to have a fairly well documented involuntary resettlement policy which also reinforces Kenyan law- the government agencies involved in infrastructure development need to follow these policies and law. The open air traders help create much needed jobs . Roads are supposed to support productivity not destroy it so maybe it is high time the government takes a more holistic approach to protecting this economic activity when it is building needed infrastructure.

See also A Look at the Social impacts of the Outer Ring Road Project

 Simon Kokoyo grew up in Mathare. He has worked for the Spatial Collective and is a board member of the Reality Tested Youth Programme, a community organization that serves the youth in Huruma, Kaimaiko and Mathare areas. He has a blog about Mathare http://matharevalley.wordpress.com/

Nairobi: Innovative Technologies for a More Sustainable Future

By Seth Kerr

As Nairobi works towards implementing its mass rapid transit system and boosting its non motorised transport infrastructure, additional options are available to move towards a more sustainable city. These options include recycling tyres for pedestrians, energy generating sidewalks, solar powered bicycles lanes, water absorbing concrete and energy generating roadways.

Tyres for Pedestrians

Cities across the United States like Santa Monica, Seattle and Washington D.C. are using recycled tyres, and even recycled plastic, to build rubberized sidewalks. The idea came to fruition primarily in order to save trees from the damaging affects of concrete sidewalks. Small sections of rubber sidewalk are used near trees in order to save both the tree and the sidewalk from damage. Recycled tyre based sidewalks have a number of other benefits too:

  1. Flexibility to move not only with tree roots but also with shifting soil
  2. Safety by providing softer, smoother surfaces for pedestrians
  3. Porous material which allows rain water to reach the soil beneath the sidewalk
  4. Low maintenance requirements and often times low maintenance costs
  5. Reduced impact on peoples’ joints
  6. Environmentally friendly alternative to landfills and/or burning of discarded tyres

Now is an excellent time for Kenyan officials to look into how discarded tyres could help Kenyans instead of harm them. Kenya, as a whole, faces a significant problem from discarded tyres. In a report published in 2014 by the German company GIZ ‘34,000 tons of tyres were burnt haphazardly, dumped, destroyed or re-used by methods that pollute air, soils and ground water in 2010’. It is likely that these numbers have only increased since 2010.


Kenya generates tonnes of waste in the form of tyres that cause pollution Photo courtesy netfund.go.ke

GIZ partnered with Bamburi Cement LTD and other businesses to form Waste Tyre Management Kenya. The main aim of the partnership is to implement a sustainable waste tyre management system and to help the Kenyan government adopt an updated waste tyre regulation. The report states that ‘The cement industry is expected to be the main user for waste tyres in Kenya’ but why can’t pedestrians benefit from the re-use of discarded tyres too by turning them into sidewalks?

Problems to Overcome:

  1. For rubber sidewalks to be successful in Kenya, there would obviously have to be a market for them. City governments would have to be interested in purchasing them for installation. To date, there is no record of any Kenyan city using rubber sidewalks. With city governments becoming increasingly more cognizant of the need to provide quality infrastructure to pedestrians, this hurdle could likely be overcome with the right marketing especially with pedestrian oriented projects like in Ruiru, Kenya.
  1. Kenyan companies would have to produce these rubber sidewalks. Globally, there are many companies like Terrecon, KBI Flexi-Pave and Rubberway who make and sell rubber sidewalk materials but to import these to Kenya would be cost-prohibitive. Kenya has a burgeoning formal recycling industry and Kenyan companies like Eco-Sandals and Eco-Post  are already keen on ways to capitalize off of recycling. Why not add rubber sidewalks as one of many possible recycled-rubber or recycled-tyre product lines?
  1. The cost of rubber sidewalks is usually more expensive than brick or concrete sidewalks in the USA. This would likely be true in Kenya too. Many cities are investing in rubber sidewalks in small quantities because they are being marketed to have lower maintenance needs as well as to be more cost effective alternatives to traditional sidewalks. Evidence is showing that rubber sidewalks may not be as cost effective from a maintenance perspective in all cases.
  1. The main impetus for rubber sidewalks in the USA is the protection of trees. It is unclear how significant of a problem this is in Kenya especially outside of central business districts. Surely, the application of rubberized sidewalks can be up-scaled beyond just protecting trees especially in a larger scale effort to protect Kenya’s environment and people from improper tyre dumping and burning.

Recycling tyres generates business (Photo courtesy bbc.com)

Electric Generating Sidewalks

The company Pavegen produces flooring material capable of generating electrical energy through the footsteps of pedestrians. The technology has been used in plazas, train stations, shopping centers, airports and a variety of other locations across the world, including a project in Lagos, Nigeria. The technology can also be used to gather data on pedestrian or consumer behavior. In Nairobi, where nearly 50% of citizens walk and electricity is not always consistent, this technology could be incredibly useful in areas with high volumes of foot traffic or even in making shopping centers like WestGate mall more sustainable.

Solar Powered Bicycle Lanes

The Dutch town of Krommenie opened a bicycle lane constructed out of solar panels in 2014. In 2015, after a year of existence, the results came back positive showing the bicycle lane produced more power than originally anticipated; enough to power three households for one year.

Being so close to the equator, Kenya receives significant amounts of sunshine. Clearly, this technology could find fruitful application here. The real hindrance for this technology is that the construction costs are very high. As Nairobi and other Kenyan cities start to expand their bicycle lanes, this technology’s initial construction cost could be outweighed by the long term power-savings.


Cycle lanes and sidewalks can generate energy

Water Absorbing Concrete

Flooding is a serious nemesis to communities across Kenya. It causes significant amounts of damage, disruption, injuries and deaths every single rainy season. The company Tarmac, based in the UK, has developed a product that could significantly reduce the negative effects of storm water. The company’s product called Topmix Permeable Concrete can absorb 880 gallons of water (36,000 millimeters) every minute. This concept is relatively new and comes with some limitations. Applied with other well designed storm water management techniques, the system could help Kenyan communities combat the rainy season.

Solar Powered Roads                                                                                

Kenya shows no signs of slowing down on adding more roads and expanding existing roads. Why not make these roads more than just a way to get from point A to point B? Some countries like France are making their roads more sustainable and productive by turning them into solar panels to collect energy. France has an ambitious plan to install 1,100 kilometers of solar paneled roadways during the next five years with hopes of generating significant electrical power.

The company behind the technology, Colas, states that one kilometer of solar powered road is enough to power public city lighting for a city of 5,000 people. Again, with Kenya’s frequent sunshine, this technology could make a dent in Kenya’s growing power requirements. Construction costs are high with this technology too but over a number of years the power-savings could justify the business case.

So What?

Rubber sidewalks and other emerging technologies will not be a panacea for Kenya in creating more sustainable, equitable and safe cities. The difficulties in marketing, manufacturing and pricing of these different options may mean none of these technologies ever finds a home in Kenya.

Public awareness and research into these different technologies, however, could have a number of benefits:

1.) Business opportunities for Kenyan companies, investors and entrepreneurs

2.) Providing additional electricity

3.) Reducing the negative effects of flooding

4.) Improving non motorised transport infrastructure

5.) Protecting the environment and air quality

6.) Improving peoples’ health

Even if these technologies are implemented in Kenya, there is no substitute for applying the smart urban planning principles that make cities successful. It is true that Nairobi, and African cities as a whole, face unique challenges like informal settlements that require solutions designed and implemented by the local populace. However, many of the smart urban planning principles such as limiting sprawl and providing a number of quality transportation options fit Nairobi’s needs regardless of their western planning origins; these sustainable technology ideas could fit too.

Kenya has the opportunity to be a leader on the African continent; an opportunity to make Nairobi the example other cities strive to replicate. These technologies, and infrastructure as a whole, could help Kenya become a paragon of sustainability if the politicians, engineers and urban planners are willing to challenge the status quo and demand more for the health and vitality of cities and the people who inhabit them.

Seth Kerr currently works in the medical research field in Nairobi. He is an aspiring urban planner. He has written about Nairobi’s Non Motorized Transport Policy for The Global Urbanist. 



How elites and corruption have played havoc with Nairobi’s housing

By Jacqueline Klopp and Jeffrey Paller


Building collapse in Daily Nation 2 May 2016

Following a heavy downpour and severe flooding, a building collapsed in the crowded Huruma neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 52 tenants. Sixteen months earlier, a building in the very same neighbourhood collapsed and killed at least two people. In both instances, many more were injured.

Nairobi is rapidly urbanising, as the city is poised to grow to six million people by 2030. But its growth is driven in part by rural push factors rather than urban industrial growth, contributing to a large informal sector and stark inequalities between neighbourhoods.

After the first building collapse, Nairobi city county responded by fast-tracking a bill to fix the problem. The second was marked by a blame game. The public and the national government pointed fingers at the county government for failing to demolish the structure as planned. Others scorned the public for littering and building unauthorised structures on flood plains.

In addition, many pinpointed corruption as at least partly at fault for the crumbling infrastructure. Officers in the county government are accused of taking bribes to overlook building code violations. However, others have argued, these codes and penalties make no sense. The Architectural Association of Kenya has been drawing attention to poor development control frameworks for many years.

At root then is a complex set of failures that must be understood within the context of politics in historical perspective. Many current problems emerged at the very beginning of Nairobi’s birth as a colonial town: flooding, poor infrastructure, marginal “housing” for the majority that served as labour reserves, lack of development control, rampant “land grabbing” and speculation. Added to this has been the presence of a privileged elite who could not or would not conceive of a broader public interest.

As the insightful blogger and cartoonist Peter Gathara points out, many of these speculative land and real estate dynamics persist, distorting prices in the housing market and creating high rents, gluts on the high-income end and shortages on the middle- to low-income end.

The ‘low-quality, high-cost trap’

Nairobi’s long-term urban governance “failures” are symptoms of deeper problems. “Failures” are economic opportunities for others. Recently, Africa Uncensored’s investigative series, “Kanjo Kingdom”, revealed the way cartels operate to extract money from poor traders in Nairobi. Many of these traders have no space to operate because of the theft over time of public utility spaces meant for markets.

Low incomes and limited jobs in the formal sector, much as in colonial times, means that to survive people must rely on running small businesses in marginal spaces in the city that are not officially designated as commercial. The failure to allocate space to vulnerable people means they become prey to cartels linked to the City Inspectorate. This is the very antithesis of service provision – it is poverty production through perverse “planning”.

A similar dynamic is at work when we come to the problem of slums and affordable housing. Slums, which were founded as colonial labour reserves, still persist in their informal status and use as labour “reserves”. Many slums are on government or former government land that was misallocated. Instead of using Nairobi’s once ample public land as a way to subsidise affordable housing (or industry and commercial activities), cartels and government officials extract from the poor who are in search of housing and livelihoods.

In the film “Living with Corruption” journalist Sorious Samura shows, for example, how he had to pay at least US$300, much of that in payments to officials, to build a shack in Nairobi’s Kibera slum with insecure rights.

These transactions signify a larger problem with corruption in Kenya’s political economy. According to the 2013/2014 Auditor General’s report, 98.8% of the money spent by Kenya’s ministries could not be clearly and lawfully accounted for, contributing to significant barriers to economic development.

As Sumila Gulyani and Debabrata Talukdar argue, Kenyan slum residents – the same types of people who were victims of the Huruma building collapse – are stuck in a “low-quality, high-cost trap.” Housing is not affordable in Nairobi’s slums, infrastructure does not improve and people are stuck with poor and insecure living conditions. All because this is quite lucrative for many who get high rental returns for providing next to no services, including safe shelter.

Owning property in Kenyan slums requires political connections and payment of significant fees (and often bribes) to get a building permit. Coupled with that is willingness to bear the risk of loss of capital if the structure is demolished. But once the investment is made, landlords benefit from informality and ambiguous land tenure rights, and work very hard to maintain the status quo. Politicians use tenure insecurity as a way to mobilise voters, promising private goods in exchange for electoral returns.

The housing challenge across Africa

The housing and flooding “crisis” of over 100 years is not unique to Kenya. Flooding is one of the most deadly disasters that periodically hits African cities. Rapidly growing cities Kampala, in Uganda, and Lagos, in Nigeria, have experienced significant flooding in the past year, and Ghana’s Accra has recently been in the midst of terrible flooding. This is likely to get worse with climate change and rapid urbanisation.

As in colonial times, the urban poor often become scapegoats for broader structural and political problems. Slum dwellers get blamed for poor infrastructure and lack of sanitation, while politicians and municipal authorities fail to deliver the public services needed to keep cities safe. Municipal authorities often advance demolition and displacement as solutions, rather than in situ and creative upgrading strategies and increasing housing stocks by freeing up land on a citywide scale.

In Accra, poor urban residents face eviction threats every rainy season. When elections occur every four years, these threats are tabled until after the voting takes place. Politicians, their intermediaries and community leaders often take advantage of this insecurity to bolster their own personal power.

While many African cities are trying to deal with the urbanisation challenge by improving infrastructure, fixing drains and investing in sanitation, perverse incentives continue to hamper progress in addressing the deep causes of poor housing and services.

Secure and safe affordable housing is still very difficult to find in most African cities. Simplistic slum upgrading schemes are not enough. As Dr Joan Cloas, Executive Director of UN-Habitat recently said,

You need to build cities – not houses.

Building better, inclusive cities involves creating a politics that enables using public land, land value and taxes wisely to ensure more and lower-cost, high-quality housing and amenities for all.

This article is reproduced with permission from The Conversation.

Smart Air Quality Monitoring for Nairobi

by Priyanka de Souza

In 2014, the World Health Organization released a report stating that in 2012, exposure to air pollution was responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths. (3.7 million deaths due to outdoor air pollution, and 3.3 deaths due to indoor air pollution). This finding confirmed the fact that air quality is the world’s single largest environmental health risk. Addressing the issue of exposure to air pollution thus has the potential to save millions of lives. So- how do we go about this?

Many countries have recognized the importance of improving air quality and have put in place measures to reduce air pollution. These measures include instituting national air quality standards (South Africa has even defined the right to an environment that is not detrimental to health or well-being to be a constitutional right). However, despite the setting of standards, and the putting in place of policies, the prohibitive cost of reference air quality monitoring systems ($150,000 -$200,000) has prevented some countries from measuring air quality to ensure compliance with these standards. Further, even when monitors are put in place, they are usually located in relatively clean areas.


Currently Air Quality Monitoring is Missing in Many Cities Like Nairobi

Low cost sensors (costing a few $ to a few $1000) have the potential to help us move from a paradigm of high cost, highly accurate, sparsely located reference air quality monitors, to a dense, low cost, reasonably accurate air quality monitoring paradigm. However, when such sensors are brought up in meetings- especially those in which public officials are present, they are usually decried. Opponents say that there are currently no standards or certification criteria defined for such sensors. Further- the flood of low cost sensors in the market, make it very hard to determine the reliability of each model.

This is indeed a problem. In fact the deluge of data from uncertified sensors such as these, have been used to cast aspersions on initiatives such as the ‘odd-even’ Delhi car scheme, as data from some of these devices actually showed a rise in air pollution despite the reduction of cars on the road. Complicating the challenge of certification, cheap sensors from the same manufacturer often have different characteristics. The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a report that looks at some of the low cost sensors on the market. The EPA, however, has calibrated these sensors in the clean environment in North Carolina, and not much is known about how these sensors will perform in polluted, hot, humid environments in the developing world. Temperature and humidity affects the stability of such sensors dramatically. More work is definitely needed to quantify the accuracy of such sensors in different conditions.

Given this limitation, do low-cost sensors have a place in today’s world? I would argue that they are extremely important. This is because of three reasons: One- Low cost sensors can be used to further citizen science by providing citizens with tools to measure real-time air quality in their homes and work places. Thus, these sensors can be used as important awareness raising and advocacy tools. The European Environmental Bureau, for example, recruited influential members of the EU Parliament in Brussels to carry these sensors around with them for a day and report the data. The high particulate matter counts were widely reported on and galvanized action.

Two- by comparing data generated by different nodes in a dense, low-cost sensor network, pollution hot-spots and sources of pollution can be identified. This allows the development of pollution management plans. It allows us to move beyond compliance and litigation into a conversation about so what can we do/what should we do? This is important as the debate in most countries has moved beyond ‘Is air quality an issue’ to: ‘What do we need to do, and how much?’

If we had such devices at work-places, next to construction sites, near power plants, close to mines, management plans, emergency action plans could be developed in case pollution levels rose to levels that could have a serious impact on health. As air quality is an issue that impacts everyone: rich and poor, it has a lot of traction and can be a powerful tool to obtain changes in policy. These devices can thus be used to identify air quality baselines and to track the impact on air quality of various measures implemented by the government such as the promotion of non-motorized transport, the setting of fuel standards. The improvement of air quality can be a powerful catalyst for action.

Three- Air pollution is not the problem. Exposure to air pollution is. Maps of air quality generated from such networks can be overlaid on population density maps, and exposure maps can be created. Mobile low cost sensors can be used for integrated monitoring (both indoor and outdoor) air pollution to track the real air qualities that people are exposed to as they move about their daily life. Stationary air quality reference monitors cannot do this. Such an integrated approach can truly allow for the measurement of quality of air that is actually breathed in by people as they go about their daily lives, and can thus be used to pinpoint health effects.

The use of these sensors in measuring indoor air pollution is an important point, because indoor air pollution is responsible for roughly half of the total premature deaths estimated to be caused by air pollution. In addition, household air pollution is a major source of ambient air pollution, but the measurement of the same is focused on far less. A study in India conclusively links the health of babies with the quality of air breathed in by mothers during pregnancy (sensors were attached to the expectant mothers during their pregnancy).


Outdoor and Indoor Pollution are linked to adverse health impacts 

Another innovative and promising air quality monitoring technique involves estimating pollution via satellite imagerSatellite data can be used to estimate aerosol optical depths (AOD) over the entire globe. Particulate matter concentrations can be inferred from the AOD. In theory the resolution of such measurements can be done in areas of a few square kilometers, however, at such resolutions the error margins can be quite high. A limitation of such an approach is that such data is only collected once a day when the satellite orbits above a location. It is believed that the use of geostationary satellites will allow data to be collected whenever sunlight is present, and the location is not obscured by cloud cover, but this is yet to be seen. Data from satellites, however, can be used to identify districts in which air pollution is high and thus inform the placement of low cost sensors. Data from these low cost sensors can also be fed back into satellite driven models that can thus improve the model, and enable the generation of forecasts.

Thus low cost air quality monitoring solutions offer the developing world a wonderful opportunity to leap-frog the stationary, expensive air quality monitoring stations of the developed world, and help inform the making of policies to reduce air pollution. In 2014, Resolution 7 was passed at the UN Environment Assembly which set UNEP a mandate to help countries tackle air quality. UNEP noted that the first step in doing so was collecting data on air quality. It thus developed a DIY air quality monitoring unit costing ~ USD 1500. The unit makes use of low cost sensors manufactured by Alphasense to measures harmful gas (NOx, SOx, VOCs, CO, O3) concentrations as well as particulate matter count.

It made the blue prints public (The circuit diagrams +code can be found here) so that governments/citizens could assemble, use the unit and even modify it, as they see fit. The unit attracted a lot of attention in the press. Several countries contacted UNEP asking for help to deploy a network of such units. If the units are networked (i.e. calibrated against each other), and are deployed in a wide array of sites, then using machine learning, it is possible to filter out ‘noise’ in the data produced by the network resulting from interfering gases, changes in temperature and humidity. This would thus increase the accuracy of the whole network. Further research needs to be carried out on how many units need to be deployed to gain an ‘acceptable’ accuracy.

We at UNEP thus wanted to deploy a pilot network of air quality monitors to better understand what the process would entail so that we could share our experience with interested citizens and governments. Thus we decided to deploy a six node air quality monitoring network in the city of Nairobi which faces many air quality problems. As we wanted the network to be ready soon, we did not use the UNEP air quality monitors for the network, as the unit is not currently being commercially produced. Instead, we used boxes we bought from the company: Atmospheric Sense. These boxes were the ones deployed by Professor Rod Jones from the University of Cambridge in a Heathrow airport air quality monitoring network study, and employ the same sensors as the UNEP unit.

Deploying Low Cost Air Quality Monitors in Nairobi

The first step in deploying the network was identifying suitable sites for the units. Here the the wonderful NASA GLOBE program helped. NASA has developed a list of protocols for the conducting of measurements of various parameters of the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. The GLOBE program trains teachers from all over the world in these protocols. These teachers then train their students to conduct measurements. NASA then uses the data from these measurements to validate and calibrate satellites.

I found that the Kenyan GLOBE program is very active. Several GLOBE schools in Kenya had weather stations which the kids work with. I therefore thought that it would be very interesting to co-locate our air quality monitors with the GLOBE weather stations in these schools. In this way, we could get wind speed and wind direction data along with air quality data, AND teach the children in these schools about air quality and about how to use the monitors.

After seeking permission we had to choose optimal sites for the monitors. The units we deploy were designed to be powered from the mains power supply. They had batteries that could last for 3 days. We thus had to ensure that our units were sited close to power sources. We wanted to measure air quality at the height at which people breathe. However, we did not want them to be in reach of anyone who could tamper with the units. We therefore deployed all units at the height of 2-3 m above the ground. We had wanted the units to be pole mounted so that they could have access to pollution from 360 degrees. However, the units were designed to be wall mounted and therefore we had to identify walls on which the units could be mounted so that they would face the general wind direction. Finally, the Atmospheric Boxes do not function well in rain or high temperatures. Although the units came with their own sun shades, we had to make sure that the units would be adequately protected from the elements in order to minimize exposure to the elements.

We finally found sites to deploy the air quality monitors in UNEP: Alliance Girls School, St Scholastica, All Saints Cathedral School, the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy and the Lunga Lunga community center. Alliance Girls School in Kikuyu was our urban background site. St Scholastica is a stone throw’s away from Thika Highway- a road notorious for traffic jams in Nairobi. All Saint’s Cathedral School is close to Mbagathi road and several small shops and industries. Kibera Girls Soccer Academy is situated right near a garbage dump site that we thought would be useful to monitor.

Further, on Saturdays, I teach kids at the school how to use the simple computers called Raspberry Pis, and thought it would be a very wonderful thing to show the children how to play with the air quality data on the Pi. For our last site, we had originally chosen Moi Forces Academy in Eastleigh. However, we later decided that we would learn nothing more by installing a monitor in this location as the schools is situated far away from the main road. We therefore decided to look for a site in the industrial area to get a true picture of air quality in Nairobi.


Low Cost Air Quality Monitor on a School

I was in touch with the community center in the Lunga Lunga slum about installing a Raspberry Pi there. We asked them if we could also install the air quality monitor and they agreed. The Lunga Lunga site is situated close to a factory that manufactures chemicals for the production of tear gas, a factory that produces electrical components, Oshwal Chemicals industry, and an open garbage burning pit. It is also close to to Lunga Lunga main road.

Atmospheric Sense shipped the units to us. We finished the deployment of the units in the first week of May. The data is streaming from these units to Alphasense servers. The first 3 weeks worth of data was presented at the Science Policy Forum of UNEA by Professor Roderic Jones of the University of Cambridge. Even with 3 weeks of data, by plotting the filtered measurements against wind speed and wind direction, potential sources were identified.We are currently working on automating the data collection, post processing and then visualization in order to make the data available on UNEP’s website UNEP Live so that the results are understandable to people. Please do check the website or email me for updates about this.

The last step of the process involves holding workshops in each school to educate the children about the unit and the importance of air quality. We will be doing this in the next few months. We learnt a lot from deploying the network. We learnt that the cost of the units is a small fraction of the total cost of network deployment. This is because maintenance of the network, as well as the analysis of the data is time consuming and  expensive. However, given the valuable insights we obtained from the data, we believe that such low cost networks are important tools for governments to use to collect air quality data in the future.

Priyanka deSouza graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in 2013 with a Bachelor and Master of Technology in Energy Engineering and a minor in Physics. She then went on to study at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and read for an MSc in Environmental Change and Management and an MBA. She is currently a consultant at UNEP and an Energy Research Fellow at Project Drawdown. She will be joining the MIT Senseable Lab as a Research Fellow in September 2016. She can be reached at priyankadesouza@gmail.com .