Competing to reduce air pollution at Beirut Urb-Hackathon

The Detox Beirut — Beirut Rah Tondaf team won first prize at the Beirut Urb-Hackathon for its project “Smarter Bus.”
Sunday 25/03/2018
Winners of the first prize, the Detox Beirut — Beirut Rah Tondaf team, at Beirut  Urb-Hackathon.       (Beirut Urb-Hackathon)
Creative solutions. Winners of the first prize, the Detox Beirut — Beirut Rah Tondaf team, at Beirut Urb-Hackathon. (Beirut Urb-Hackathon)

BEIRUT - Pollution in Lebanon has many causes, including car-jammed roads, uncontrolled dumping of garbage and lack of proper waste management, which deeply affect the air, soil and water.

The issue of air pollution caused by transport in urban centres was the focus of the recent Beirut Urb-Hackathon, in which young professionals met to tackle the problem.

The event, under the theme “Data-Urbanism: Reducing City Air Pollution from Transport,” was the first hackathon in the region and the third worldwide after Paris and Seoul. It was organised by e-EcoSolutions and IPT Energy Centre (IPTEC) with the support of Berytech Digital Park, the Order of Engineers & Architects of Beirut, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Compact Network Lebanon (GCNL), Universite St Joseph and the French Institute in Lebanon.

Organisers explained that hackathon participants collaborate to resolve problems and find innovative solutions to a specific issue. In the case of Beirut’s Urb-Hackathon, innovators brainstormed on how to reduce air pollution in Beirut and other major cities, with the support of experts from La Cite Des Sciences et De L’Industrie in Paris.

University students, coders, programmers, architects, artists, environmentalists, designers and others broke into teams that debated solutions to the problem over three days. They delivered their proposals to a jury, which selected three winners.

“The thinking is done on a group level. The jury looks at different aspects of the proposed projects such as feasibility, innovation, sustainability and the possibility of turning them into start-ups in the future. They should be simple solutions that people individually can start using to reduce the emissions from transport,” e-EcoSolutions CEO Gilbert Tegho said.

“While the government works on the infrastructure, the people will be able to accelerate, adopt and even implement some changes.”

More than 27% of air pollution in Lebanon is from means of transportation, UNDP studies stated.

“Definitely, the transportation sector is one of the main contributors to CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions and other criteria pollutants in Lebanon,” said Karim Hammoud, deputy general manager of IBC Household Solid Waste Management Centre.

He said that, while emissions were inevitable by-products of fuel combustion, their concentration is magnified by driving patterns, the high rates of congestion in cities, the age of the vehicle fleet and the absence of proper public transport.

“We have a large number of cars on the road. Buses and trucks operate on dirty diesel, which is highly pollutant, and regular cars are a problem as well because they produce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide,” Hammoud said.

“Other sources of air pollution are mostly industrial. We have a number of plants near the coast that are known to be big pollutants in Lebanon, like cement factories and power plants. The problem in Lebanon is that we have narrow coastal plain and high mountains that block the air from circulating easily.”

Burning garbage in open municipal dumping grounds across the country is another source of air pollution, Hammoud said.

“It is very dangerous because we do not know exactly what kind of pollutants it is producing. We do not know if they are burning plastic or whether the waste contains cancerous material; this is relative to the type of garbage you are dealing with,” he said.

However, much can be done specifically through revitalising the public transport system, renewing the vehicle fleet, adopting eco-friendly driving patterns in addition to monitoring and managing air quality.

The Detox Beirut — Beirut Rah Tondaf team won first prize at the Beirut Urb-Hackathon for its project “Smarter Bus.”

“Our idea provides for purchasing used smartphones and installing them on buses. Each driver would know the exact position of other drivers and at the same time, passengers would know when to expect the bus. It is a way to facilitate and organise the buses and the services they provide,” explained Shadi Farah, a member of the team.

Hackollution, which won second prize for “Safayna” (“We Parked”),  focused on finding parking places. The group devised an application like Google Maps that people could use to spot free parking spaces and reserve them 5 minutes before arrival, saving time and cutting back on CO2 emissions. Third prize was awarded to Breathe for the “Breathe App,” which informs commuters about air pollution levels and traffic conditions around the city to help them choose routes and means of transportation to use.

Exhaust emissions from vehicles exacerbate air pollution in Lebanon, where more than 1.5 million cars circulate in an area of 10,452, a figure that is considerably higher than it could be if a good public transportation system were in place.

“It is extremely urgent that Lebanon takes measures to stem pollution. The government should have acted yesterday, like 20 years ago. Unfortunately, today the problem is not being handled by technical professionals but by politicians who are not really the right people to handle such a technical issue,” Hammoud said.