Air Pollution & Health: Preparing for Ahmedabad's AQI

Ahmedabad City View
Ahmedabad City View
Credit: NRDC

Alarming air pollution levels in Indian cities are a major topic of discussion during this week’s Parliamentary session. The Indian Health Ministry found that the health consequences of particulate matter pollution alone are estimated to be exceed 3 percent of India’s gross domestic product, as announced in the Lok Sabha.

Aside from residents plagued by coughing, respiratory illness and worse, the monitoring levels are dangerously high. For example, the PM2.5 levels at New Delhi’s Anand Vihar station reached 427 micrograms per cubic meter on Friday and 535 micrograms per cubic meter at Ahmedabad’s Maninagar station on Saturday. These levels are well above the World Health Organization’s 24-hour guidance of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

The Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Anupriya Patel, in a written statement to the Parliament, referenced the “India - Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges” report by the World Bank. The report finds that “the total damage because of environmental degradation amounts to Rs. 3.75 trillion, which is equivalent to around 5.7 per cent of the India’s GDP.”

In an effort to protect local communities from rising air pollution levels, the AMC is developing a health-based program for outreach around the AQI developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune (IITM) and SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research). AQI systems already operate in key cities in India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Mumbai, among others, as well as internationally. The Ahmedabad AQI is scheduled to be formally launched in early 2017.

To develop the program, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Commissioner Shri Mukesh Kumar and Mayor Shri Gautam Shah joined by international public health and air pollution experts from the Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (IIPH-G), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune (IITM) are holding a two day workshop on “Air Pollution & Health: Laying the Foundation for Effective Use of Ahmedabad’s Air Quality Index” this week.

NRDC and partners, IIPH-G, are working with the AMC on information, education, and communication strategies for the new AQI being launched in Ahmedabad. The combined efforts of government agencies, health professionals, and community leaders can serve to effectively inform the public about rising air pollution health risks in India, and how to take steps to protect community and individual health.

The new Ahmedabad program focuses on air quality alerts and advisories, interagency coordination, public awareness and community outreach, and assessing health impacts and monitoring to strengthen actions. The interagency coordination, alerts, and outreach are modeled on the effective Heat Action Plan by the city that has now scaled to 11 cities in 2016 and potentially leading states in the coming year.

The new program is also designed to integrate health and pollution control strategies with the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s “City Clean Air Plan for Ahmedabad”. The GPCB includes a broader comprehensive strategy for emissions controls. The program will also incorporate knowledge exchange components with New Delhi and other cities. Ahmedabad is examining media strategies used in New Delhi on health risk communication and outreach to design its program.

The new program in Ahmedabad also builds on examples from Beijing, Los Angeles and Mexico City. By developing a plan locally based on the regional knowledge, the plan can then integrate into the larger central and state framework—much like Los Angeles program in California with the federal government in the United States. Models like Los Angeles and Mexico City show how local change can make broader impacts to improve larger air quality systems.

As Health Minister Patel said in Parliament, the “Government is making efforts to control air pollution by formulating environmental regulations, setting up of monitoring network for assessment of ambient air quality and promoting cleaner production processes.” Ahmedabad is taking the approach seriously by integrating the AQI, health-based community outreach, and emissions control strategies led by the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board. The workshop and meetings this week kick off the events to chart a course to clean air for communities across Ahmedabad that then can be applied to other cities in India.