Air Quality Yangon (AQY) is a student-based team formed by a group of six students (age 17-20) under the inspiration and mentorship of their professor, Dr. Kirt Page.
After living a few years in New Delhi, Dr. Page moved to Yangon. On his arrival, he noticed the air pollution in Yangon as he felt a familiar tingling sensation in his throat. He proceeded to check the air quality of Yangon and came to realise that there was little to no information. So, together with the students, Dr. Page formed the AQY team with a shared goal: to make changes.
This interview is about the status of the air quality in Yangon, major pollutants, and the team’s work and future plans.
The air pollution is recently become more discussed on social media. Is it because the air quality is worsening than before or campaigns are getting better public attention?
Globally, air pollution has worsened according to WHO sources. And air pollution was highlighted as the 2019 World Environment Day theme, which led people to form air pollution campaigns, both online and offline.
Since when did you notice Yangon’s air quality is declining significantly?
Anyone living in Yangon will notice at some point that the air is not good. But to actually notice it and conclude that it is indeed air pollution, we first need data, which is why we started this project. With the data at hand, we do find seasonal fluctuations in air quality which couldn’t be concluded yet as declining significantly.
How many campaigns have you organized both online and offline since the establishment of your group?
We’ve organised one campaign, the “Know What You Breathe” campaign, with the help of Bridge and Save the Children.
I saw that you have installed air-quality monitors around Yangon. Since when did you start doing this project? How do you fund it?
We started the project in September 2018, with the help of a grant our professor got from the US embassy. We started installing sensors with the grant. In 2019, Save the Children funded our campaign and more sensors, which we installed in Mandalay and Taunggyi.
What contributes to Yangon’s air pollution and how can we fix or reduce it?
Due to our lack of professional human resources, we haven’t been able to analyse the data enough to conclude exactly what is causing Yangon’s air pollution. However, we think trash burning is the main contributor among several others. And with the temperature drop during these few months, the air sinks (convection), which causes pollutants to settle at ground level. Fixing the air-pollution issue is a long-term process where everyone has to participate. We encourage people to be cautious about their everyday activities which could be harming the air.
Is there any government organisation working with or supporting your group in any way?
Currently, we are an independent youth group.
Future plans and projects?
We will possibly collaborate with other student groups and organizations to start solving air pollution and not just raising awareness about it.