Back to Basics: Clean Air in India

Ahmedabad AIR Plan

Our India team is in Ahmedabad this week working with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and partners on the first of its kind, Ahmedabad Air and Response (AIR) Plan. I had the honor of meeting Ms. Elaben Bhatt along with our special guest Ms. Frances Beinecke to discuss the plan. Ms. Elaben reminded us to focus on getting back to basics and that clean air is a basic need. 

Ms. Elaben is the founder of the women’s collaborative, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) that stated in Gujarat in the 1970s and strives to improve the livelihoods of the working families. The Ahmedabad AIR Plan that is being unveiled by the Mayor of the city of Ahmedabad today aims to do exactly that, it gets back to basics and focuses on protecting the health of working families in this rapidly urbanized city of nearly 7 million.

Just this month, two major reports highlighted the alarming air pollution levels across India. The new State of Global Air report and interactive presents global scenarios and is under discussion in India. Another Lancet report shows the link between air pollution and climate change.

Air pollution is a major global public health risk in cities across the world. It is one of the highest-ranking environmental health challenges in the world, especially in developing countries like India. Ahmedabad is one of India’s largest and fastest growing cities with a population of nearly 7 million. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ahmedabad has some of the highest air pollution levels in India. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also found that Ahmedabad ranks among the most polluted cities in the world.

The Ahmedabad AIR Plan is a health-based program designed to protect and increase awareness among residents on air pollution. With the AQI as the center point, the Ahmedabad AIR Plan focuses on health risk communication and creates immediate and longer-term actions to increase preparedness, information-sharing, and response coordination to reduce the health impacts of air pollution on vulnerable populations. The Ahmedabad AIR Plan is the first of its kind in India, and developed by the AMC with national and international experts and learning from best practices on AQI health risk communication from Beijing, Los Angeles, Mexico City and New Delhi.

Strategies of the Ahmedabad AIR Plan

For the initial pilot year, the Ahmedabad AIR Plan for 2017 will focus on five key strategies:

  1. Pilot Health-Based AQI Warning and Interagency Coordination – develop interagency coordination plan and pilot AIR alert system.
  2. Public Awareness and Communication Outreach – update AMC website with AQI and AIR Plan; engage media on AQI and AIR Plan; develop information, education and communication (IEC) materials.
  3. Focused Activities for Vulnerable Groups – create pamphlets, hoardings, videos, SMSs; initiate school flag program that coordinates with schools to display colored flags corresponding to AQI levels for each day.
  4. Capacity Building Among Medical Professionals – engage with private and public medical professionals to build health awareness and protection strategies on air pollution.
  5. Initiate Research on Future Exposure Reduction and Mitigation Pathways – identify the future mitigation and exposure control and reduction measures with key partners.

Organization and Implementation of the Ahmedabad AIR Plan

As the lead agency, the AMC Health Department has the overarching responsibility for the coordination of the AQI and AIR Plan related to health activities. This includes monitoring the daily AQI and alerts and disseminating public health messages to local departments and community service providers. The AMC Health Department will also work with the AMC press office to increase media coverage, including local language and social media, around protection from harmful air pollution levels.

The AIR Plan serves to focus attention on those individuals who are most at risk from air pollution, including children, pregnant women, outdoor workers and the elderly. The Plan also focuses on individuals and organizations, such as Urban Health Centres (UHCs) and link workers, who frequently work with at-risk populations and can provide early diagnosis of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Individuals, community groups, and the media are also essential in fighting the effects of air pollution. Individuals can take specific preventative steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from harmful air pollution, including learning about early signs of respiratory illness and limiting outdoor activities, using masks and air filters, as well as raising awareness on pollution levels.

The media is vital in spreading the word about air pollution and the AQI. The media plays an essential awareness-building role by sharing news about health threats, and increases public protection by running ads and providing local resources information.

Key Stakeholders of the Ahmedabad AIR Plan

The Ahmedabad AIR Plan is part of a broader collaboration between AMC and public health and policy experts at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH-G), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Thee Ahmedabad AQI is supported by technical expertise from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune (IITM)’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) program. AQI systems operate in three Indian leading cities, Delhi, Pune and Mumbai, and several cities internationally.

The Gujarat State Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and the Gujarat State Climate Change Department are also critical to the creation of the plan, as are key local researchers and civil society groups. 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.

In support of the Ahmedabad AIR Plan, in 2016, the AMC along with IIPH-G, NRDC and IITM engaged in a series of stakeholder discussions on air pollution in India and Ahmedabad.  In December 2016, hosted by the Honourable Mayor, the AMC and partners convened an international workshop on “Air Pollution and Health: Laying the Foundation for Effective Use of Ahmedabad Air Quality Index”, and released an underlying issue brief on the evidence base for creating the AIR Plan, “Protecting Health from Rising Air Pollution in Ahmedabad.” The discussions have been on translating increased monitoring through the SAFAR’s AQI and air quality monitoring network and growing public awareness, into usable health advisories and impactful policy changes that target some of the key sources of air pollution.

The central aim of this project is about saving lives and helping the people of Ahmedabad to create healthier communities, more secure from the dangers of air pollution, and prosperous economy. Through the AQI and the AIR Plan, countless lives can be saved from air pollution, while also opening collaborative pathways to pollution reduction. The AIR Plan is the initial step in longer term goals of achieving basic clean air.