Monitoring air quality in slums, an issue of social justice

June 2, 2023
Measuring air quality in slums, a way to dignify vulnerable communities

Table of contents

The air quality in informal settlements, also known as slums, favelas or shanty towns, represents a challenge that affects the health and dignity of people living in these communities.

These slum neighbourhoods tend to be located in peripheral urban areas close to sources of pollution (industries, landfills, high-traffic areas, etc.). These locations, coupled with the burning of polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting, contribute to worrying levels of exposure to air pollutants, particularly for more vulnerable groups.

What can we do to address the air quality challenge in informal settlements?


The daily struggle against pollution in the slums

If the choice is between using dirty fuel or not feeding your kids, then is there a choice?

Cressida Bowyer / Heather Price. The Conversation, 2019


The above quote reflects the daily lives of many inhabitants of slum neighbourhoods, of which there are approximately 1 billion, a figure estimated to grow to 3 billion by the middle of the century.



Despite some progress as a result of the tireless work of dozens of NGOs and international organisations such as UN-Habitat, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), air quality in these settlements continues to pose a challenge with respect to:

  • Social justice and equity.
  • The right to a sense of well-being.
  • Reducing the impact on the environment and natural resources.
  • Pursuing more sustainable urban development that improves living conditions.


What are the activities that determine air quality in slums?

The main sources of air pollution can be attributed to a combination of factors, such as:

  • The burning of solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, biomass or even waste.
  • The proximity to roads with dense traffic and industrial zones as these are areas that are outside the scope of urban planning and are occupied as the urban population grows.
  • A lack of infrastructure with respect to waste collection or wastewater treatment, resulting in gaseous emissions and particulate matter from accidental or intentional fires.
  • Building materials and cleaning products.



From crisis to hope: actions to improve air quality in slums

The problem, as you can see, represents a real challenge.

However, the good news is that effective solutions do exist which can improve air quality in informal settlements and provide greater dignity to the lives of inhabitants.

One key approach involves the implementation of air quality monitoring systems that use low-cost devices. This solution is particularly relevant when no reference equipment exists for this purpose due to high costs and the technical expertise required for their operation and maintenance.

For example, the deployment of a network of low-cost monitors, along the lines of the project carried out in Benin or the one in Nairobi could be very useful for:

  • collecting data using innovative technologies;
  • addressing the air quality issue with a holistic approach to understand the magnitude of the problem, and
  • taking effective measures, and involving the community, to promote sustainable practices.

One of the concerns that can arise when running such projects is the accuracy of the air quality data recorded. After all, there is a wide range of low-cost sensors ranging from unreliable devices to solutions that produce results almost as accurate as those collected by reference equipment.

As a result, we at Kunak are committed to improving data reliability by using Kunak AIR Pro stations as a reference system against which to calibrate other devices. Our products have one of the highest quality standards on the market, with proven precision (validated by recognised prestigious institutions) that provides a further guarantee.


In short

Air quality in informal settlements is an urgent problem that affects the health and dignity of their inhabitants. By monitoring air quality levels, adopting clean technologies and promoting community participation, we can bring about positive change.

It is time to act.

For clean air, a healthy future and dignified life in informal settlements.