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Monday 15 January 13:53

Swanex initiative: productive discussions and progress made during West Africa visit

News: Jun 12, 2023

West African and Gothenburg universities join forces in the Swanex initiative, aiming jointly to address air quality, children’s health issues related to air pollution, and urban design and housing. Recent workshops in West Africa marked a significant milestone in the partnership.

Traffic in Lagos, Nigeria

Air quality, children’s health, and urban design are interconnected challenges in the capital of Lagos in Nigeria. GSF aims to support knowledge-sharing and capacity-building within these issues through the Swanex initiative.

A delegation from the Sweden – West Africa Network for Education and Research Exchange (Swanex) recently embarked on a trip to West Africa and brought together experts from various disciplines to unlock the potential of complementary capacities. The Swedish delegation comprised researchers and students from Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, and was coordinated by Prof. Magdalena Eriksson, the Director of Global Sustainable Futures (GSF).

The first stop on the itinerary was the University of Lagos in Nigeria where the program unfolded over three days, 18-20 April. The team was warmly received by the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development (CHSD) led by Prof. Taibat Lawanson. She plays a key role in the collaboration, leveraging her previous involvement in Mistra Urban Futures to bridge the gap between disciplines and shape the aims of Swanex.

The Swanex team i Lagos consists of 17 men and women.

There were many fruitful discussions during the Swanex workshops with representatives from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, the University of Lagos in Nigeria, and Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Gothenburg, and Global Sustainable Futures in Sweden.

The workshops and its first day commenced with a visit to the Research & Innovation Office and the International Relations, Partnerships and Prospect, where the Director, Prof. Ismail Ibraheem, welcomed the initiative and expressed his hope for an expanding and long-term collaboration.

The group also visited the nearby informal community of Bariga, situated just a few kilometres from the campus. Perched on the shore of the lagoon, Bariga citizens mainly engage in fishing and processing, such as smoking, of fresh catch. The community lacks infrastructure such as streets and paved footpaths. Prof. Lawanson commented that the “pristine” culture of Bariga, noting that conditions in the community currently are challenging, with children contributing to the economy from a young age, compromising their school attendance and that opportunities for boys and girls tend to differ, typically favouring boys. She also commented on the approach to community interaction developed by CHSD, preferring the empowerment of community members over actions taken on their behalf.

On the second day of the workshop, the meetings were thoughtfully designed to facilitate in-depth discussions aimed at establishing concrete plans for future collaboration. An important principle of the initiative is co-creation, engaging communities and young researchers in the research process. The participating researchers took a truly multidisciplinary approach, focusing on the intersection of child health, air quality, and urban environments.

Notably, Prof. Johan Mellqvist from Chalmers University of Technology and Prof. Jan Pettersson from the University of Gothenburg brought expertise in air quality and atmospheric measurements, while Prof. David Doku and Dr. Francis Annor from University of Cape Coast in Ghana contributed their knowledge in public health and psychology, respectively. To complement these areas of expertise, Mr. Adegboyega S. Sotunbo presented research of his own and fellow PhD students Mr. Roger Simeon and K.I. Zakariyyah, led by Prof. Olumide A. Adenuga. They presented ongoing studies addressing indoor air quality, water, and waste management among others.

Prof. Rose Alani, a chemist and air quality specialist, enriched the discussions with her experience on air quality issues related to refineries, dump sites, and e-waste.

The discussions resulted in identifying several researchable areas, including informal settlements, urban air quality, and pollutant emissions from point sources. The discussion also approached a strategy for air quality monitoring in East and West Africa.

It is evident that all partners have much to learn from each other, including technical aspects of air quality assessment, community involvement approaches, and identifying the key factors affecting human health, particularly in relation to children and vulnerable groups. The CHSD group also identified measurement equipment-related challenges that need to be addressed to ensure high-quality data as a basis for the collaboration. “It all boils down to that the quality of the air impacts everything,” said Dr. Julius Faremi, senior lecturer at CHSD.

After the fruitful visit to the University of Lagos, the Gothenburg delegation continued to the University of Cape Coast (UCC) in Ghana. At UCC, the delegation met with colleagues at the Directorate of Research, Innovation, and Consultancy (DRIC, also acting as the local host), and the Department of Environmental Sciences on 24-25 April.

The visit began with a warm welcome address by Prof. David Doku, the director of DRIC, recognizing the importance and significance of the Swanex initiative. This gesture set a positive tone for the discussions and emphasized the value placed on this collaborative endeavour.

Following a round of introductions and an overview of Swanex with its goals and objectives by Prof. Magdalena Eriksson from GSF, the focus turned to scientific discussions.

Prof. Frederick Ato Armah gave a comprehensive review of work related to air pollution and health research at UCC and in Ghana. The Department of Environmental Sciences also played a crucial role in the program by providing an overview of their research on air pollution. This comprehensive overview allowed participants to gain a deeper understanding of the current research landscape and identify potential areas of collaboration, including atmospheric matters related to the mining industry, urban communities, informal settlements, and waste deposits.

In addition to the academic sessions, the program incorporated a tour of the Cape Coast vicinity, which offered a unique opportunity for the participants to visit a large landfill and informal settlements with nearby water bodies. This first-hand experience provided valuable insights into the local context and the environmental challenges faced by the respective communities. Finally, attending recent UCC graduates attached to the Department of Environmental Sciences presented themselves and their research interests.

The visit to both universities proved to be highly productive, fostering constructive discussions, knowledge sharing, and collaborative planning The exchanges between the West African universities and the Gothenburg universities laid a solid foundation for the future development of Swanex.

GSF initiated the Swanex collaboration and secured support from STINT through an one-year initiation grant. Co-creation will be a fundamental aspect of the collaboration, engaging communities and young researchers in the research process.


 Photos: Magdalena Eriksson and Johan Mellqvist


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