Step Up Completes Study on COVID-19 and Air Quality in 4 ASEAN countries

The regional project “visible unearthing”, implemented by Goethe Institut aims to use open data to analyze the interactions of air-water quality and other indicators (groundwater level, etc.) that are important, especially in climate change in very specific environments (cities, regions, ecosystems).  As an important part of the process, a data inventory was undertaken to identify the datasets that can be used to capture a condition of interest and visualize it in ways that could generate meaningful discussions. Step Up Consulting was the lead researcher for the project.

With COVID-19 impacting the Southeast Asian region and globally, the initial plan was to look at environmental data with a certain level of relationship with COVID 19.  Given that restrictions in movement have significantly impacted mobility during lockdowns, and with transportation as one of the identified contributors of air quality (EPA 2019), the main focus of the assessment was the availability of open air quality data. 

The research was implemented in four cities across SouthEast Asia, namely, Hanoi (Vietnam), Manila (Philippines), Bangkok (Thailand) and Jakarta, Indonesia. Despite limitations in data, there are at least emerging findings that came out of the research.

As indicated in the graph above on Bangkok, three patterns are emerging from the visualization. First, during hard lockdown periods, mobility within Bangkok significantly decreased when compared to baseline figures. Second, during hard lockdown periods, air quality data is consistently below the baseline figures, except for December to January.  Finally, lockdown impacts mobility significantly within the period immediately following its imposition and gradually increases towards baseline over time. The same effect can be said of air quality, where lockdown periods result to better air quality but the effect wanes in succeeding periods.

The same can also be said of the Jakarta dataset that can be seen in the graph below:

 

The above visualization compares the air quality index in 5 data collection points across three years.  A specific date was chosen using the lockdown scenario as the primary determinant. Jakarta, in this case, implemented its first hard lockdown in the second half of March 2021, imposing work from home arrangements and restricting religious worship.  The choice of the specific date (March 29) is conditioned by data availability within the three-year period from 2019 across the different data collection points where researchers gathered the average. 

Figure 1 indicates a significant improvement in air quality index when we compare 2019 with 2020 data when successive lockdowns were imposed in the city by the government.   Towards the end of March 2021, lesser restrictions were imposed by the city government. 

In the next three months, Step Up researchers will be publishing three papers as a result of the research. These are as follows:

  1. Openness of environmental data and its implications on data governance.  The paper will utilize the findings of the inventory conducted by the researchers and its implications on measuring environmental health, as well as on monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals
  2. A review of alternative data sources to capture air quality data, with particular reference to the use of satellite data that can potentially reveal anomalies in the relationship between lockdown, mobility, and air quality.  This is particularly true in Hanoi, where there seems to be only a slight improvement despite mobility restrictions. It has been argued that pollutants for the city are outside the city itself, particularly those coming from the powerplants and the industrial clusters.
  3. A deeper investigation of lockdown, mobility, and air quality, using the results of this study and other analyses conducted by other researchers in the last six months.