Empowering the Almaty and Bishkek Air Quality Initiative with Clarity Node-S air quality sensors

The ABEC Air Quality Initiative shows that with the right tools and commitment, we can combat the invisible killer that is air pollution — learn how air quality sensors are used in Almaty & Bishkek.

A Clarity Node-S air quality sensor deployed to measure air pollution in Almaty.

Clarity Node-S air quality sensors deployed across Bishkek and Almaty

>2.5 million

Almaty and Bishkek citizens with access to real-time air quality data

>$50 million

in funding for air quality improvement unlocked with the use of data to develop Clean Air Action Plans

Begaim Alipova

Begaim Alipova

Head of Atmospheric Pollution Observation Division, Kyrgyzhydromet
"In 2020, we installed 50 sensors in the city of Bishkek. Since the Clarity Node-S sensors installed in Bishkek are small, we installed them all over the city. We placed some of them near roads, some in residential areas, and some in social facilities. Thanks to the Global SIM Card which is incorporated in the sensors, we get the data directly to our system which allows us to visualize the data. The data is ready for analysis.”
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Creating a Unified Economic Zone in Central Asia

In the heart of Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic are pursuing a bold initiative to integrate two dense economic centers — Bishkek and Almaty. The Almaty - Bishkek Economic Corridor (ABEC) links the two cities into a single economic space where the exchange of ideas and movement of goods and people is faster, easier, and free of barriers.

Air pollution stifles progress and sustainability in the ABEC

Air pollution and other environmental challenges are often associated with rapid economic growth, and the ABEC is no exception. The region faces formidable challenges with urban air pollution, particularly during the frosty winters that characterize the region. 

Nestled in valleys surrounded by towering mountains, Almaty and Bishkek grapple with the entrapment of air pollutants, exacerbated by coal-powered heating and vehicular emissions. These geographical and climatic conditions, coupled with the reliance on traditional fossil fuel and biomass-based heating methods, pose a significant threat to air quality.

Bishkek struggles with dense air pollution during the cold winter months when air pollutants created by fossil fuels and traditional heating methods are trapped over the city by inversion layers and the surrounding mountains. 
In Almaty, we are basically in a pit, and we do not have enough air circulation. There are mountains all around. I would say that clean air is the basis of healthy breathing. If there is no clean air in the body, not only the lungs but all other organs can function only when there is enough oxygen.” 

— Saule Kassenova, Leading Consultant Pulmonologist, Research Institute of Cardiology and Internal Medicine, Almaty 

The severity of the issue becomes glaringly evident during the winter heating season in Bishkek, where air pollution levels often surpass safe limits by up to 30 times according to World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines. 

During the heating period the air pollution is so high that when you look out of your window, all you see is grey air and faint outlines of buildings and trees, not to mention the mountains.” 

— Azhar Baisalova, Project Manager, MoveGreen Bishkek 

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, city leaders decided to facilitate immediate action and help implement air quality management strategies in the ABEC that would safeguard both environmental sustainability and citizens' health. 

Establishing a data-driven clean air initiative for ABEC

City leaders recognized that as a first step, they would need reliable air quality data to establish a baseline and better understand the composition and sources of air pollution in the region. They turned to Clarity, a leading provider of easily deployed, accurate air quality sensor technology, to provide Sensing-as-a-Service air quality monitoring and help establish a baseline for air pollution in the region.

City workers with Clarity Node-S air quality measurement sensors in Bishkek.

The air quality monitoring initiative marked its first milestone by financing 50 Clarity Node-S air quality sensors for Bishkek in 2021, soon followed by an additional 50 Clarity air pollution monitors for Almaty in 2022. These solar-powered, cellular-connected air quality sensors track particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the region, enabling the identification of primary air pollution sources and the assessment of their impact on health in both cities. 

Local workers install Clarity Node-S air pollution sensors to measure air quality in Almaty.

Thanks to the small size and ease of deployment of the Node-S, local authorities were able to install air quality sensors strategically around the city and take real-time air pollution measurements in critical locations. 

In 2020, we installed 50 sensors in the city of Bishkek. Since the Clarity Node-S sensors installed in Bishkek are small, we installed them all over the city. We placed some of them near roads, some in residential areas, and some in social facilities. Thanks to the Global SIM Card which is incorporated in the sensors, we get the data directly to our system which allows us to visualize the data. The data is ready for analysis.”

— Begaim Alipova, Head of Atmospheric Pollution Observation Division, Kyrgyzhydromet

The air quality sensors are robust enough to operate even during the cold winter months in the region, weathering snow and sub-zero temperatures to provide air quality data during the critical period when air pollution levels are the highest in Almaty and Bishkek. 

A Clarity Node-S air quality sensor measuring air pollution in the snow during Bishkek’s cold winter months, when air pollution levels can skyrocket. 

With a baseline of reliable air quality data, local environmental agencies could now more effectively plan and measure the impact of air quality improvement initiatives around the two cities. They worked with international partners to establish the ABEC Clean Air Initiative, which includes support for sustainable transport that relies on renewable energy, electrified mass transit and private automobiles, low-carbon district and individual home heating, more efficient cooling, and increased reliance on "circular economy" measures. 

Today we have 50 Clarity sensors in Almaty that provide us with online data on the type of particles and pollution in different parts of the city. Thanks to these sensors, we can plan environmental measures in Almaty.”

— Bolat Amirgaliyev, Head of Environment Division, EcoAlmaty 

The data collected by the air quality measurement equipment can be easily accessed by local authorities through the Clarity Dashboard (pictured below) and is made available to the public through the websites of Kazakh and Kyrgyz hydrometeorological agencies, the ABEC, and IQ Air.

With the Clarity Dashboard — here showing Almaty's air quality sensors on January 3rd, 2024 — local officials can easily view real-time and historical air quality conditions and take action when air pollution reaches unhealthy levels, as pictured above.
The Clarity Dashboard — here showing Bishkek's air monitoring network on January 3rd, 2024 — also allows them to easily manage their equipment, monitor the status of their devices, and add new air quality monitoring sites. 

Leveraging air quality sensor data for robust analysis of air pollution trends

The availability of reliable air quality data in the ABEC has galvanized a range of studies by academic researchers and NGOs into how the data could be leveraged to mitigate the impacts of air pollution in the region. In September 2023, the World Bank released a study utilizing data from Clarity air quality sensors to assess the air quality in Bishkek

The World Bank’s Air Quality Analysis for Bishkek report will inform future action to reduce air pollution in the region. 

The study’s focus was on PM2.5 pollution, with the objective of informing measures to enhance air quality within the city. The study employed a scientific approach to pinpoint the primary contributors to air pollution, estimate their relative impact on PM2.5 concentrations, model the dispersion of PM2.5 pollution across the Bishkek airshed, and evaluate the effects of various emission reduction measures on PM2.5 concentrations. 

Researchers were able to combine air quality data collected by Clarity sensors with other data sources to estimate the contributions of various air pollution sources in the region — residential heating and transport accounting for the bulk of air pollution in Bishkek, followed by other sources such as windblown dust, urban dust, and industrial emissions.
The air pollution data collected by air quality measurement equipment allowed researchers to perform comprehensive, month-by-month modeling of air pollution concentrations across Bishkek during different times of the year — confirming that the worst air pollution is observed during cold winter months.

The findings of the study contribute to the foundational evidence for designing measures aimed at improving air quality in Bishkek. Importantly, the analysis also identified that all modeled measures to reduce PM2.5 emissions demonstrate co-benefits in reducing CO2 and black carbon emissions, demonstrating focusing on air quality improvement can be a powerful approach for greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate change mitigation. 

The report modeled the projected impacts of a wide range of proposed environmental improvement measures for both particulate matter pollution and carbon dioxide — highlighting the close relationship between improving air quality and fighting climate change, given the co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gases.

Separately from the World Bank, UNICEF, and the Japanese government also used the data from these air quality sensors to commission a report on “Health and social impacts of air pollution on women and children in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”. 

The report was authored by Rufus Edwards, Jay Turner, Rahat Sabyrbekov, Ajay Pillarsetti, and M-Vectorr, with guidance and support from the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, Kyrgyzstan government representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Technical Oversight of the Kyrgyz Republic.

This report represents the most current assessment of the health and social impacts of air pollution on children and women in Bishkek. Additionally, it provides recommendations for appropriate prevention measures. This report has been released with the technical assistance of UNICEF and is financially supported by the Japanese government.

The UNICEF analysis found high intra-city variability of air pollution concentrations, with ​​the one-year average PM2.5 varying by a factor of six across Bishkek (ranging from 17-107 mg/m3).
The study also modeled outdoor PM2.5 for exposure estimates across Bishkek, using an average concentration with a 5km buffer around each participant's residence to estimate outdoor PM2.5 at workplaces.

The UNICEF report recommends the modernization of ambient air quality and emissions standards and emphasizes the strategic placement of air quality reference monitors, particularly in high-concentration neighborhoods, to capture pollutant variability. Additionally, the report underscores the need for careful budget allocation for data validation and analysis in low-cost sensor networks, as well as ongoing oversight of network data quality, given the limitations of source apportionment studies in resolving PM2.5 source contributions due to the challenges in distinguishing sources using the same coal type, especially during wintertime when daily contributions are highly correlated due to meteorological influences.

Improving air quality for a cleaner and more sustainable ABEC

The ABEC Clean Air Initiative has already made notable progress in countering the significant air pollution challenges the region faces — yet work remains to be done. Local authorities will continue to work to support the deployment of innovative solutions that reduce air pollution and encourage regional collaboration to improve air quality as laid out in the Clean Air Action Plans that ADB prepared for Bishkek and Almaty, as well as a brief for Bishkek: Tackling Air Pollution in Bishkek: A Road Map to Cleaner Air.

A November 2023 brief prepared for Bishkek titled Tackling Air Pollution in Bishkek: A Road Map to Cleaner Air, proposes interventions to accelerate the transition to cleaner air. This includes replacing coal with heat pumps for heating public buildings and residential households and developing public transport to take cars off the roads.

These Clean Air Action Plans summarize the consensus around the causes of air pollution for each region and provide a comprehensive overview of potential solutions. The plans propose practical interventions, emphasizing the replacement of coal with heat pumps for heating public buildings and households, as well as the development of public transport to reduce reliance on cars and mitigate air pollution. 

Because data from the air quality monitoring network is made publicly available, it has also helped to raise awareness of air pollution in local communities and drive change through action at the individual level. 

When residents have access to information and know what level of air pollution is today, yesterday, and tomorrow, it helps to raise the issue of environmental safety in the cities and demand some measures. Or to make some small decisions at a personal level, such as insulating your house, wearing a mask, or not burning leaves.”

— Azhar Baisalova, Project Manager, MoveGreen Bishkek 

The real-time air quality data provided by the Clarity air monitoring network plays a pivotal role in the ABEC Clean Air Initiative — allowing local officials to establish an air pollution baseline and empowering them to measure the impact of air quality improvement projects, including ADB's Urban Transport Electrification Project for Bishkek. 

The data provided by the sensors helped to speed up the city’s decision-making. Today, the sensor readings have had a direct impact on public opinion. This year, we launched public ecological transport and eco-taxi, and we are launching a new system of dedicated public transport lanes that will directly affect the transition to eco-friendly modes of transportation.”

— Jyrgalbek Shamyraliev, Vice-Mayor, Bishkek City Mayor’s Office

Having a reliable baseline of air pollution data in place is enabling further investments in air quality improvement in the region. At the end of 2023, the World Bank approved the $50 million Kyrgyz Republic Air Quality Improvement Project, to be implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resource, Ecology, and Technical Supervision.  The project aims to enhance the country's capacity to manage air quality and reduce PM2.5 and greenhouse gas emissions in Bishkek. The initiative consists of four components, including: 

  • Strengthening the air quality management system
  • Promoting clean heating solutions
  • Improving urban greening
  • Providing support for project implementation through funding for relevant ministries
On December 12, 2023,  the World Bank and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Technical Supervision of the Kyrgyz Republic co-hosted a stakeholder meeting in Bishkek to discuss the outcomes of and  formally endorse a $50 million project aimed at addressing air pollution in the country — watch the video here.

The ABEC Air Quality Initiative demonstrates the transformative role that accurate, real-time air quality data can play in regions facing challenges with air pollution, and the inspirational work in the ABEC should serve as a model for other regions looking to protect public health from the invisible killer that is air pollution.

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