Pollution alert: One Gujarat model that Delhi should follow
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is introducing an early pollution warning system called ‘Air Information and Response Plan’ to send out alerts about rising pollution levels. Though Delhi has a much poorer air quality, it is yet to develop such a system.
India’s first text-based early warning system for air pollution that measures particulate matter less than one micron is set to become a reality in the next few months.
While Ahmedabad in Gujarat became the fourth Indian city to launch the Air Quality Index (AQI) on May 12, authorities of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) are now putting in place the ‘Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan’, in which SMS alerts and advisories would be sent to citizens warning them of rising air pollution levels.
Experts said that even though Ahmedabad enjoys a cleaner air than Delhi, the system was put in place to save lives and help people avoid the ill effects of pollution. Delhi on the other hand had its AQI installed around seven years ago but is still to come up with such a system.
“As of now pollution data would be displayed on 12 LED screens across the city, website of SAFAR and on mobile apps. We are putting in place the SMS-based alert system but it would take a few months,” said a senior official of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).
Such early warning systems become all the more important because international studies have claimed that India’s worsening air pollution caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015.
How will the system work?
A senior official of AMC explained that once the AQI of Ahmedabad is generated, a nodal officer would start informing various government agencies such as the pollution control board, the press, medical practitioners and telecom companies.
“LED screens would display the pollution data at 12 locations and people can also see the data on websites and through mobile apps. In addition, SMS alerts would be sent to doctors, schools, colleges, hospitals and traffic police. Schools would hang coloured flags telling students about the air quality. Doctors on receiving the SMS can advise patients on the Dos and Don’ts and distribute pamphlets,” said Dileep Mavalankar director of Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar (IIPHG).
Any individual who registers with the system would get alerts on how the pollution could rise over the next two to three days.
“Depending on the air quality, we would send advisories such as wearing masks, limiting outdoor work, changing work schedules etc,” said an official of the AMC.
The system comprises two stages – Air Quality Index (AQI) and Air Information and Response (AIR) plan.
“While the AQI tells us how clean or polluted the air is, the AIR is all about communicating the data to the citizens through alerts and advisories, thus allowing them to take precautions against pollution,” said Gufran Beig programme director of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) that falls under the Ministry of Earth Sciences which tracks the AQI in four Indian cities.
A few other cities across the world such as Beijing, Los Angeles and Mexico City have similar warning systems too.
While Delhi was one of the first cities to come up with the AQI during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, it was followed by Mumbai and Pune. Ahmedabad is the fourth city in India to have it.
“But while other cities, including Delhi, have limited themselves to just generating data, they lag behind in communicating it to the citizens. Ahmedabad with its AIR has moved a step ahead to complete the circle where this data could be used to save lives by informing people,” said an expert.
Experts said that AIR would be different from the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) which was prepared to combat air pollution in the National Capital Region.
While GRAP is all about what actions government should take to reduce pollution AIR would advise vulnerable people about dos and don’ts to avoid health problems.
The AMC has tied up with IIPHG, Natural Resources Defence Council and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology to develop the system.