News February 14, 2024

Clean Air Project Launched in Accra

GDCI's team present the Designing Streets for Kids guide to the Korle Klottey Municipal Assembly chief executive and staff at project launch. Photo: GDCI

The Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI) has officially launched its air quality project in Accra, Ghana, with the support of the Clean Air Fund, a global philanthropic organization working with governments, funders, business and campaigners to create a future where everyone breathes clean air.

GDCI is working with the Korle Klottey Municipality in Accra on the Removing Pollution from Play project to demonstrate how reimagining streets promotes cleaner air. This effort began in late 2023 and will continue through October 2024, with the aim of creating a temporary street transformation project to showcase the connection.

A fine balance

Accra is Africa’s fastest-growing city in a region where 65% of the population is predicted to live in cities by 2060. As the commercial hub of Ghana, there are an estimated 2.5 million commuters for work and business, which means road transport contributes a significant 40% of Accra’s PM2.5 air pollution concentrations. More than 28,000 Ghanaians die prematurely annually due to air pollution, according to the WHO.

Access to a healthy environment was declared a basic human right in 2022 by the UN General Assembly. But advancing economic growth while transitioning to cleaner forms of transport and energy for both industrial and residential use, is challenging. Worldwide, but particularly in the global south, there is mounting pressure to achieve ambitious climate change goals and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This is despite the fact that the African continent produces less than 3% of the world’s GHG emissions.


What is PM2.5 air pollution?

WHO’s air quality guidelines outline which airborne pollutants are considered most harmful healthwise.

“These include ozone, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, as well as fine particulate matter. Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is the key indicator used in making health estimates of air pollution impacts and is most commonly measured or monitored by governments around the world to protect citizens against the adverse impacts of air pollutants.”

These kinds of particulate matter are tiny—approximately 2.5 micrometers—compared to the average human hair, which measures around 70 micrometers in diameter. That means they are more easily inhalable and could even enter the bloodstream.

Source: WHO, EPA

Photo: GDCI

Focus on future generations

GDCI’s project will focus on children and youth, considered the most vulnerable groups in terms of exposure to air pollution and its impacts.

More than 90% of children under the age of 15 years are severely inhibiting their development and negatively impacting their health by breathing polluted air daily. According to the latest census report in Ghana, children and youth continue to comprise the bulk of the urban population. UNICEF states that the early years of a child’s life are “critical for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development” which means tackling poor air quality needs to be done today to prevent future generations from suffering chronic respiratory diseases or developmental issues.

GDCI believes that creating cities for children and youth as well as their caregivers, means cities are safe and healthy for the entire population.

The research and street transformation project will explore how innovative urban design can effectively reduce air pollution. Program Manager Hayrettin Günç explained the general approach to the project: “[We will] start with a pilot project, select one school, and see if we can create a safe space for kids to play, removed from air pollution, and then showing the results so we can implement these kinds of projects in different areas of the municipality.”

During the visit, the team conducted practical training for more than 40 municipality staff. Participants had to analyze and diagnose street designs regarding how they minimized air pollution, and propose redesigns to improve them. GDCI also conducted school site visits, collected baseline data, and discussed the project and next steps with stakeholders.

The team’s work will also actively involve communities to engage in the planning and implementation process.

The award-winning Designing Streets for Kids guide, available in eight languages, will be the basis of the guiding principles and methodologies used, which have been essential for cities around the globe to transform neighborhoods and cities tailored for children and their caregivers.

Building on city leaders' goal of "pollution to solution"

Local leaders and practitioners joined the GDCI team for an in-depth training on the connections between street design and air quality. Photo: GDCI

GDCI will also capitalize on the strong leadership and political will of Accra’s city leaders who are championing the drastic reduction of air pollution to improve health and wellbeing of residents. The city has committed to several initiatives to combat the public health issue.

“We have committed to achieve clean air status and work towards meeting WHO guidelines and air quality standards. This commitment substantiates the principles within Accra’s Climate Action Program and the potential co-benefits related to air quality management, as well as the reduction of health impact on citizens,” said current Mayor Elizabeth Sackey.

Meanwhile, former Mayor, Mohammed Adjei Sowah, stated: “In our part of the world, air pollution is not prioritized as a health concern, even in the way we cook. But the statistics are so staggering that we have to wake people up to take action. We have to talk about it loudly so that it becomes part of our discourse in the urban political space.”

Accra has also endorsed the Global Street Design Guide, showing their commitment to transforming streets, public spaces, and cities for people.

GDCI will be posting updates on the research in Accra and the nexus between air quality and the built environment in the coming months. To stay updated, please sign up for our newsletter.

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