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Opinion & Analysis

Develop adequate tools to monitor pollution

A section of Nairobi. The scale of pollution in major African cities is unimaginable. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A section of Nairobi. The scale of pollution in major African cities is unimaginable. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Our natural resources, land, water, and air, are increasingly becoming unsafe as a result of human pollution.
We pollute our environment when we add things that produce poisonous or harmful effects on living things. Several of the common and new diseases can be attributed to environmental pollution. Yet we have not developed adequate tools to monitor pollution.

The scale of pollution is unimaginable. Virtually everyone is either inhaling or consuming toxins produced out of our ignorance towards nature.
There are many types of pollution, ranging from water, soil, air, noise and light pollution.

There is a whole range of pollutants including radioactive nuclear material, which is often dumped into our seas that contain the fish we eat.

This is perhaps why the just concluded UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi chose pollution as the theme for this year’s gathering.

The objective of this year’s high-level meeting was to deliberate on “the importance of tackling health risks from air, water and solid waste pollution through multi-sectoral approaches, and at different geographic levels.”

Participants from across the globe shared “their experiences on integrating the environmental and health agendas into local, national and global urban policies, so as to address adverse health effects from pollution and promote strategies to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Since the adoption of SDGs at the UN General Assembly in 2015, the interest in advancing the achievement of these goals has weakened.

Yet cities like Nairobi are struggling to keep pace with the growing mounds of solid waste as vehicles spew poisonous gases into the air and the continued dumping into the rivers.

The environmental assembly therefore revived the necessary vigour towards advancing the SDG agenda, especially with the following: clean water and sanitation, clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water and life on land.

READ: Climate change brews a storm for East Africa coffee farmers

Resolutions from these 193 UN member states, if implemented, will have far reaching implications on global citizens.

Several cutting edge technologies and innovation solutions towards pollution free planet were showcased. Although some nations may never apply these technologies, some solutions and tools could be easily used by the public to create the necessary awareness.

An informed public could put pressure on governments to deal with pollution problems. We are finally getting closer to developing tools that can help the citizens to play a critical role in ensuring that pollution is minimised at all levels.

For example, IBM Research Labs presented their sustainability innovations to address this UN mission. The innovations include an accurate and easy-to-use method for testing drinking water, using the IoT to monitor water and air pollution and to understand where it is coming from and an app to help citizens living off the grid to install solar panels.

Speaking at the 2017 Sustainable Innovation assembly, Dr. Michael Karasick, vice president, Global Labs, at IBM Research said, “If I could be so bold, it’s thinking, combined with the application of artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, the Internet of Things and analytics.

These technical innovations are fundamental in addressing some of the grand challenges our planet faces including potable water, sustainable energy and clean air.

For example, by modelling the levels of particulate matter in the air we have contributed to 1.65 million fewer annual hospital visits in Beijing.

And to improve access to sustainable energy, today, we are launching a free, easy-to-use app for Africa, to break down the complexity of solar adoption for homeowners and businesses, by enabling them to design their own solar systems, in minutes, based on location and energy needs.

These technologies, particularly AI, augment our ability to find the answers to these challenges, before it’s too late.”

The app for Africa comes at an opportune time when Kenya has passed a law in favour of clean energies.

Thomas J. Watson the founder of IBM, famously said, “All the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think. The trouble is that men very often resort to all sorts of devices in order not to think, because thinking is such hard work.”

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