An early warning system will notify people of excessive air pollution days as part of the response plan, while medical professionals will be trained to respond to emergencies.
The first Indian monitoring and early warning system for air pollution was launched on May 12, 2017, in the nation’s fifth most populous city, with the hope that it will reduce the health impacts and deaths from air pollution, a growing problem in a country with nine of the world’s 20 most polluted cities in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Combining the efforts of local government, scientists and non-profits, eight new air quality monitoring sites across Ahmedabad will produce a daily air quality index (AQI) that will be accessible to citizens through 11 LED screens across the city, as part of what is called the Air Information and Response (AIR) plan.
An early warning system will notify people of excessive pollution days as part of the response plan, while medical professionals will be trained to respond to air-pollution emergencies. The monitors are installed at eight locations (Bopal, Satellite, Pirana, Raikhad, Navrangpura, Rakhiyal, Chandkheda and the airport) in a city of over 5.5 million people.
An AQI is a metric on a sliding scale that tells people about the quality of the air and associated near-term health impacts. It transforms complex air quality data of various pollutants into a single number (index value), nomenclature and colour.
Ahmedabad was among the five most polluted cities in India in terms of PM 2.5, according to the WHO’s 2014 Ambient Air Pollution database.
PM 2.5 is particulate matter finer than 2.5 micro-meters, or about 30 times finer than a human hair. Inhaled deep into the lungs, they can cause heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases, and are known to pose the greatest risk to human health. Their measurement is considered to be the best indicator of the level of health risks from air pollution, according to the WHO.
In the footsteps of Beijing
People living in more polluted areas die prematurely after long-term exposure to air pollution, and inconsistent monitoring makes it difficult to assess the threat posed by ambient air pollution.
The AIR plan is a collaborative effort between the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), a nonprofit in Gandhinagar, Natural Resources Defense Council (a non-profit head-quartered in New York), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (government institute) and the Indian Meteorological Department’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) network.
The monitoring and warning system will be tried for the first time in India, but follows the successful example of Beijing, that started the program for issuing colour-coded pollution alerts in 2013, according to this report by The Scientific American.
However, this warning plan was accompanied by other measures like restricted driving schedules, school closures and reduced industrial production to curb emissions, according to a 2014 paper in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which is missing in the Ahmedabad plan.
The AMC has set aside a budget of Rs 30 lakh for 2017, Chirag Shah, nodal officer of the AIR plan and the Deputy Health Officer of the West Zone at the AMC, told IndiaSpend.
“All the recurring costs, such as the maintenance of screens and stations, issuing advisories and initiating programs to increase public awareness will also be borne by us,” said Shah. “The land for installing the AQI monitors has been provided free of cost to SAFAR by the AMC, and SAFAR has invested about Rs 20 crore to install ten AQI monitors in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad, eight of which are here.”
The AMC had drafted a comprehensive Air Action Plan to combat pollution from construction activities, vehicular emissions and industries in 2016, its second such plan since 2002, but it is yet to be implemented, according to a Times of India report on May 12, 2017.
Forecast air quality, issue early warnings and be better prepared
The AMC Health Department is responsible for coordination of the AQI and AIR Plan. This includes monitoring the daily AQI, issuing alerts and warning on bad air days and disseminating public health messages to local departments and community service providers.
The AIR plan is modelled after Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan (HAP), launched in 2013 to reduce health impacts and mortality from extreme heat waves through measures that included early warning systems, increased public awareness and training health professionals.