Protecting human health, climate and the environment through abatement of air pollution using participatory approaches

Patrick Büker
Published: 01 March 2022
Last edited: 11 November 2022
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Air pollutants affect human health, (agro-)ecosystems and the climate, thereby hindering the achievement of SDG 3, 7, 11 & 13. People with lower socio-economic status are affected most (through personal exposure and increased food prices), partly due to their limited awareness of the issue. One Health approaches to better air quality for improved human and (agro-)ecosystem health need to account for local knowledge, cultural practices and priorities. 


A pilot study with various local stakeholders carried out in Nairobi trialed a new co-created transdisciplinary approach to air pollution awareness using interviews, storytelling, participatory mapping, theatre, playful activities and music. This transferable solution can lead to an improved understanding of the issue across affected communities, thereby empowering them to demand from policymakers the development and implementation of effective, inclusive air pollution abatement policies. 



East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Cities and infrastructure
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Local actors
One Health
Science and research
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Other theme
Air Pollution
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Risk assessment
One Health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Food systems
Health effects of climate change and pollution
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Sustainable urban infrastructure and services
Increasing temperatures
Loss of Biodiversity
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
Aichi targets
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services


Nairobi, Kenya


Air pollutants affect human health, (agro-)ecosystems and the climate. Health effects include respiratory illnesses, heart diseases and reduced resistance to infections (potentially also to Covid-19), mainly caused by particulate matter and ozone. Reduced (crop) plant growth and productivity leading to yield losses are the main effects on (agro-)ecosystems caused by ozone, but effects on biodiversity have also been reported. Lastly do some air pollutants contribute to global warming.


There is evidence that disadvantaged people in developing countries and emerging economies are those affected most due to their living environment and habits (dense housing, in-door open cooking and heating etc.), lack of access to clean fuels and limited awareness and knowledge of the problem. This also hinders affected communities to engage with the development of respective air pollution abatement policies, which increasingly follows participatory approaches.  


  • Urban informal settlement residents in Nairobi and more generally developing countries.
  • Urban and peri-urban (agro-)ecosystems in Nairobi and more generally agricultural areas downwind from agglomerations in developing countries. 

How do the building blocks interact?

Innovative solutions to air pollution do account for local knowledge, cultural practices and priorities of the intended users of these solutions. 


The solution described here helped to raise awareness of the sources and effects of air pollution with regard to human health and the environment in an informal settlement. It also helped to identify appropriate solutions to better air quality through a combination of qualitative, participatory and creative approaches that can contribute - in direct collaboration with policymakers - to the development of respective policies that will be effective and inclusive. 


The approach piloted uncovered perceptions and explored assumptions in a more equitable way, helping to move towards equalising power dynamics. By working in partnership with community members, the community-created outputs were able to reach large (and varied) audiences. This is particularly important given the collaborative partnerships at all levels required to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The pilot also revealed that air pollution was part of much broader environmental, economic and social issues that the population faced on a daily basis in the informal settlement. Hence, successful solutions to the issue of air pollution and its effects on human health, the environment and the climate cannot be considered in isolation from other issues (informal settlement) residents face on a day-to-day basis.  




Air Pollution in Mukuru – A digital story:

Contributed by

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Patrick Bueker Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

Other contributors

Sarah E. West
Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, York,
Cressida J. Bowyer
University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
William Apondo
Stockholm Environment Institute, Nairobi, Kenya
Steve Cinderby
Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, York, UK
Cindy M. Gray
University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Matthew Hahn
Independent theatre for development practitioner, London, UK
Fiona Lambe
Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Miranda Loh
Institute of Occupational Medicine, Brimington, UK
Alexander Medcalf
University of York, York, UK
Cassilde Muhoza
Stockholm Environment Institute, Nairobi, Kenya
Kanyiva Muindi
African Population and Health Research Center, Nairobi, Kenya
Timothy Kamau Njoora
Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya
Marsailidh M. Twigg
UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster, UK
Charlotte Waelde
Coventry University, Coventry, UK
Anna Walnycki
International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK
Megan Wainwright
Durham University, Durham, UK
Jana Wendler
Playfuel Games CIC, Manchester, UK
Mike Wilson
Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK
Heather D. Price
University of Stirling, Stirling, UK