BOM in Ethiopia

Just before COVID-19 brought a halt to global movements, BOM delivered an important engagement project in Ethiopia based on the air quality research campaign, ASAP East Africa. We got involved following an invitation from Francis Pope, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Birmingham, who we’ve been in touch with since 2016 when we introduced our (then) artist in residence Robin Price

As part of the ASAP mission to educate and engage communities, we commissioned Robin to create a new series of light paintings in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. We used these images for a bus poster campaign in Addis’s central station,  developed a phone selfie app to engage with young people, and delivered children’s workshops in local Addis schools.

With accessibility of information being a concern, the bus poster campaign, and Robin’s stunning images, became a central point for connecting with local people. These strangely beautiful works, created with long exposure photography and an air quality sensor, show constellations of air polluting particles and their varying density in different locations.

A later city intervention saw us collecting personal observations and anecdotes about the health impacts of air quality. We encouraged the passersby to write their thoughts and ideas on postcards which were subsequently shared with government officials and policy makers in Addis Ababa to bring about systematic change to air quality and the health of citizens.

At The International School of Addis Ababa, a series of interactive workshops were delivered by our Engagement Producer Chloe and Digital Producer Ben. It was here that the BOM Self air phone app got its official debut. The app, connected to an air quality sensor, enabled the user to visualise air borne particles that are all around us, yet are ordinarily invisible. Children’s selfies were transformed through filters and visual effects, including the Ethiopian Lion of Judah’s head and sparkly particles representing the density of harmful levels of PM2.5 in the air. An animates set of lungs was also superimposed, changing colour depending on the levels of pollution.

Now we’ve developed a working prototype of this fun and engaging app, we’re looking at a number of ways we can develop it. Watch this space!

We also ran an air quality workshop at Mekdella, a local state school, where we had the pupils monitor the airborne particulates in the school’s outdoor kitchen. Like many kitchens in Addis Ababa, charcoal is the chosen cooking fuel in open fires. A very high reading led to a valuable learning opportunity, discussing the effects of different kinds of cooking fuels on air quality and the children’s own, and the wider community’s health.

The threat of urban air pollution is a global challenge. The problem is particularly acute in cities that have rapidly urbanised, which explains the emphasis of this research project on the fast-growing city of Addis Ababa and others in East Africa. We’re very proud to have been a part of it.

If you’re interested in the global rates of air pollution have a look at this Air Quality Index, a fascinating web page that monitors the World’s air pollution in real time.

You can also follow the important research the ASAP team are doing by visiting the ASAP website.