Back in 2016, a local news article on air quality grabbed Collins Gameli Hodoli’s attention. Hodoli is from Ghana, where thousands of people die each year from the effects of air pollution, he learned. “Why is nobody doing anything about this?” he wondered.
The problem pervaded his own upbringing in the coastal town of Vodza-Keta. Lacking electricity, his family used kerosene lamps for light and charcoal to cook, both of which release particulate matter. And with no waste management system, residents burned trash, further polluting the air.
Neglecting to act would be almost criminal, Hodoli thought, so he obtained funding from the Ghanaian government to earn a Ph.D. in environment and agrifood from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, with the goal of finding ways to curtail air pollution.
Ghanaians were unaware of the health hazards they faced, Hodoli realized during his graduate work. While he was still studying, he founded an organization called Clean Air One Atmosphere, aimed at increasing public awareness of air pollution.
Today Hodoli is a lecturer at the University of Environment and Sustainable Development in Somanya, Ghana, as he continues his work with Clean Air One Atmosphere. In collaboration with researchers from Columbia University in New York, he places air quality monitors in public buildings such as schools and hospitals throughout Ghana and nearby countries. Readings appear in a publicly available app called Yakokoe, which means “clean air” in Ewe, the native language of Hodoli’s mother.
The work is slow. Internet and electricity are intermittent in West Africa, and the sensors need both. Equipment fails, and there’s not always someone around to fix it. Despite setbacks, Clean Air One Atmosphere is having an impact. Results from a sensor in the Methodist Girls’ High School in Mamfe, Ghana, for example, convinced administrators to plant trees and grass to limit dust and to stop burning trash.
Hard numbers tend to spur action, Hodoli said. That’s why the clean air revolution “should be data driven.”
—Saima May Sidik (@saimamaysidik), Science Writer