"Cityzens" run for clean air and healthier public spaces

With the international climate change conference, COP27, concluding last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the world's attention was once again brought to the ongoing global impact of climate change and the need to drastically reduce vehicle emissions, coal-fuelled power plants and fumes from chemical production.


Air pollutants not only fuel climate change, but also damage our health. Ongoing exposure to harmful toxins in the air increases the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, stunted development in children and asthma, among other problems.


People need to become aware of the quality of air they breathe and act at individual and collective level to improve their environment. 


It is crucial for citizens and communities to become involved, reducing their own footprint through personal choices linked to energy and consumption, and advocating for business and government to make changes for the benefit of all.


As the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), we look forward to hosting the World Science Forum (WSF) in December.  The theme for 2022, "Science for Social Justice", means that climate change will feature prominently.


Leading up to the WSF, there will be a five to 10 km fun run under the Cityzens 4 Clean Air campaign, starting at Sea Point, Mouille Point Lighthouse (Green Point) and Mandela Park in Khayelitsha.  


Participants will be equipped with wearable sensors to test the air quality on their route.  An app is used to capture geocoded data on built-up areas and possible sources of polluted air encountered.


The runners in Cape Town will be supported by runners in Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria. 


Cityzens 4 Clean Air is part of the UrbanBetter Cityzens initiative, a collaborative learning and advocacy platform that mobilises citizens for healthy, sustainable, urban environments.


The campaign brings together young scientists, known as run leaders, who gather data on air quality in rapidly urbanising African cities, where measurement is often inadequate.  Routes are chosen to cover diverse socio-economic areas.


The intention is to raise awareness of the importance of clean air and the need to improve the measurement of urban air quality, as well as encourage young people to play a role in developing interventions that shape the urban environment for health and climate resilience.


The first Cityzens 4 Clean Air runs took place along the same routes in July, August and September 2022, and the second runs in late October/early November.  The results of the October/November runs were used for a social media campaign to highlight the effects of air pollution on health and climate change in the run-up to COP27, and featured on the Youth and Health-themed days.


On completion of the third runs in December, the data collected will be analysed, and the findings will be shared at the closing session of the WSF on 9 December.


Mabatho Ndwandwa and Modikoe Patjane, the DSI coordinators of the Cityzens 4 Clean Air run in South Africa, said the campaign taps into the potential of young people to contribute to the achievement of several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


"We need clean air," said Ms Ndwandwa, "We need to eradicate pollution to combat climate change and to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable."


The campaign highlights the importance and viability of participatory, science-informed decision-making for healthy, climate-resilient cities.  The use of science and technology tools by citizen scientists and young people in Africa and across the world allows the collection of scientific data that can inform decision-making.


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