Air pollution is a major public health risk in cities across India. Leading cities from Ahmedabad to New Delhi are implementing programs to protect public health. As part of its new monitoring system and health-based plan, the city of Ahmedabad launched a new program focused on one of the most vulnerable groups—children. The new “school flag program” in Ahmedabad works to protect children by increasing awareness on air pollution levels, related health impacts, and preventative steps.
“Urban outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year”, according to the World Health Organization. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. Since children have growing bodies—lungs, brains, nervous systems—their immature respiratory systems are at risk. Studies have shown irreparable harm to children’s lung function from air pollution exposure, as well as, brain development. Children with asthma are at even greater risk. Children also spend more time outdoors and breathe about in 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults—breathing in more pollution.
Nearly 100 private and public schools in Ahmedabad are participating in a new school flag program. Under the program launched by Mayor Gautam Shah, school officials will monitor daily air pollution levels and display corresponding color-coded flags. The purpose of the program is to inform children about air pollution levels and measures to prevent exposure, such as staying indoors during days when air quality is flagged ‘severe’. School officials can also restrict or limit outdoor, physical activity for children during school hours when air pollution is at its worst.
To assist with smooth implementation of the school flags program, Ahmedabad is planning to develop and share communication material in the form of pamphlets and posters to raise awareness in schools. These materials will provide teachers and school administration with information they can use to take action to help reduce exposure to children of dangerous levels of air pollution.
The school flag initiative is part of the Ahmedabad Air Information Response (AIR) Plan and 11 new monitors for the Air Quality Index (AQI) launched in May by Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) developed the AQI and AIR Plan with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune (IITM) and Indian Meteorological Department’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) program, the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar and NRDC.
Similar to Ahmedabad, New Delhi announced plans for new monitoring stations. New Delhi will add 20 new air pollution monitoring stations by October, bringing the total number of monitoring stations in the city to 48. The network of monitoring stations is part of the Supreme Court’s mandated Graded Response Action Plan for winter in the Delhi region.
New monitoring programs and AQI systems across India are critical to protecting public health. Implementing programs that focus on health, like the school flags initiative and the Ahmedabad AIR and AQI Plans protect and increase awareness among residents on air pollution. Through these programs, countless lives can be saved, while also opening collaborative pathways to pollution reduction. These health-based programs are the initial steps in the longer term goal of achieving clean air for children and others in India’s cities.
This post is co-authored with Sayantan Sarkar, NRDC India Initiative. Anjali Jaiswal contributed to this post.