The right to clean air in Pacific low- and middle-income countries


  • Dr Andrew Dansie, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW
  • Jimmy Jaghoro Hilly, research student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW and Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services 
  • Khadija Al Nabhani, research student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW


This project was part of the Australian Human Rights Institute's 2022 seed funding round, receiving $9,661.


An increasingly populated and industrialised world has inevitably led to a decrease in air quality across a number of regions, raising concerns about the harmful effects of air pollution on human health. As noted by a number of health and environmental organisations, respiratory illness is on the rise in Pacific populations. However, existing research has been largely concentrated in high-income countries, leaving an absence of information on the global south. 

This research aims to utilise empirical air pollution data in order to improve the health outcomes of Pacific communities. The data will support government partnerships with multilateral agencies and universities that will improve air quality through investment in renewable energy. Women and children from lower-income households are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of poor air quality, and a gendered and demographical approach will be taken to extend this research to identify those most at risk. 

Technology deployed through an Australian Human Rights Institute seed funding grant will be used to complement existing projects which monitor air quality, allowing air particles to be captured for laboratory analysis. The technology will be deployed in Sydney (Australia), Honiara (Soloman Islands), Suva (Fiji) and Nuku’alofa (Tonga). Such data will allow researchers to differentiate the source and health risks of air pollution in the Pacific region, with particular attention to urban versus peri-urban areas and indoor versus outdoor exposure. 

Ultimately, the research aims to:

  • Complement existing UNSW equipment currently measuring airborne pollution concentration.
  • Provide Pacific Island Countries and Territories’ (PICT) federal ministries with empirical data which will assist in addressing the increasing respiratory disease burden and hasten energy transition.
  • Allow for the first-ever inter-country comparison of air quality in the Pacific, providing regional strength to requests for multilateral support.
  • Improve air quality for people in low and middle-income PICTs. 

2023 project update

The following outcomes have been achieved:​

  • 72-hour airborne PM2.5 sampling periods by HDR Candidate Jimmy Hilly in each urban, peri-urban and rural sampling sites in Fiji, Tonga and (to be completed) Honiara.​ 

  • 24-hour airborne microplastic particle sampling periods by HDR Candidate Khadija Al Nabhani in each urban, peri-urban and rural sampling sites in Fiji, Tonga and (to be completed) Honiara.​

  • Strengthening of relationship with the University of the South Pacific (USP) and sharing of similar high volume air sampling equipment to complement both UNSW and USP air research. This allows further complimentary field research to be undertaken with the UPS High Volume Sampler.

  • Request to jointly look for further funding to deploy the sampler in Vanuatu (Port Vila and Efate Island) by the Vanuatu Ministry of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology & Geo-Hazards, Environment, Energy and Disaster Management.​​ 

Moving forward, we aim to continue expanding the project in a global and federal capacity as the data collected shows that AQ is not meeting WHO guidelines. Our goals are as follows: 

  • UNSW is increasingly being seen as the technical lead for air quality monitoring in the Pacific and a partner that works collaboratively with in-country partners. This included the signing of a new MoU with the Government of Vanuatu in January 2023 in Port Vila. The sampling facilitated by the Institute will generate health impact findings based on the ongoing monitoring that began in 2019.​ 

  • Securing further funding for postdoctoral and PhD positions at the start of 2024. We plan on approaching philanthropic organisations and the DFAT for funding.  

  • Embedding air quality project officers in each country for 25 months and building capacity for Ministry of Health and/or Ministry of Environment to absorb these positions as ongoing employment in their offices. ​