By Shloka Nath
MUMBAI, India, Mar 23 2020 (IPS)
Over the past few years, worsening air quality in India—and in
north India specifically—has awakened policy makers and civil
society to take urgent action.
There have been some efforts to address air quality,
specifically the National
Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which was launched in January 2019
with the aim of improving air quality standards by 20-30 percent
over the next five years. While this has been a positive step, we
not only need a more ambitious agenda, but also a strong compliance
framework that ensures accountability to the targets we have
With growing congestion in cities—a trend which is only likely
to increase—we need to also look at the transport sector,
especially at a time when infrastructure investments such as the
Mumbai Coastal Road Project do little to factor in
environmental impacts. It is no surprise that fewer cars on the
road mean less traffic, less time on the road, and therefore less
air pollution exposure.
Air pollution, both outdoors and in households is the second
most serious risk factor for public health in India, after
malnutrition, contributing to 6.4 percent of all healthy years of
Despite how much needs to still be accomplished, we have come a
long way in the past few years. We are now in a place where we are
starting to get the science and technology right, in terms of
monitoring air quality and understanding the impact it has on our
lives. We have more data and evidence than ever before; now we must
focus on enabling its use to identify and implement solutions.
The fight for the right to cleaner air in India is unique and
important because it is not championing one solution, or one
approach. That a diverse cross-section of players has chosen to
stand up and take action underlines the fact that no one is
protected, and everyone has a responsibility.
What we need today is greater urgency and action to ensure clean
air in our homes, villages, and cities. The development sector,
especially foundations and philanthropists, have a unique role to
play given their varied expertise and backgrounds.
To start with, here are the four most important ways
Indian philanthropists can get involved
1. Pinpoint the problem
The current lack of effective monitoring and measurement is a
peculiar issue within air pollution, and it is also one of the
areas where funders can play a meaningful role. This can take a few
a) Monitor air quality
In India, according to estimates, we require around
4,000 continuous monitoring stations to give us an accurate
picture of the air pollution problem—2,800
in the urban areas and 1,200 in the rural areas. Currently
data, when available, comes from a little over 600 manual stations and less than
100 continuous monitoring stations.
Funding a data gap like this could go a long way in starting to
solve the air quality issue in India, because better data
generation means better informed people and policies. More
importantly, it is a fundamental human right of any citizen to have
access to information on the quality of air they are breathing.
b) Identify pollution sources
Mumbai’s air pollution problem is a good case in point. The
relatively clear skies of today’s Mumbai create the perception
among residents that air quality can be a low priority. Yet, a
study released by the Centre
for Science and Environment (CSE) in December 2019, stated that
Mumbai’s air has the highest concentration of
PM10 out of 24 cities in peninsular India.
In many parts of the city, Air Quality Index (AQI) readings frequently
register 24-hour averages of between 120 and 300, classified
anywhere between unhealthy and hazardous.
Worse still, is that we don’t have a clear enough picture on
what’s causing these numbers. We know the pollutants—the result
of construction, road works, waste burning, industrial activity,
fires, vehicular emissions, and so on—yet, attributing exact data
around source contributions is complicated.
The information needs to be analysed in real time and requires
more monitoring infrastructure for more granular data
c) Assess health and economic impacts
The Global Burden of Disease analysis released in November 2017,
for instance, identified air pollution, both outdoors and in
households, as the
second most serious risk factor for public health in India,
after malnutrition, contributing to 6.4 percent of all healthy
years of life lost (Disability Adjusted Life Years) in 2016.
According to the World Bank, India lost over
8.5 percent of its GDP in 2013 due to air pollution. Anumita
Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment
says, “If you add up the number of years we are losing
because of illness, because of the productive time, all of these
are coming at huge economic costs.”
Today, we know that there are health and economic consequences
of poor air quality, but we don’t have a comprehensive picture,
one that allows us to truly assess the impact and to mobilise
2. Engage the public
a) Elevate impactful stories
People are at the heart of the air pollution epidemic. We need
to increase communication efforts to drive citizen engagement
through impactful storytelling. Here, philanthropy can play a
crucial role in increasing public awareness by supporting targeted
campaigns that spread information around the health impacts of air
pollution. Importantly, we must encourage communication that
showcases how short-term investments in clean air have a long-term
effect on reducing expenditure on healthcare in the future.
b) Advocate for policy change and
There is still a lot of work left in terms of getting the right
message to the right audience set. We need an increased effort in
communicating not just the problems that arise as a result of air
quality, but what the solutions are. This would help bridge the
disconnect between the work specialists are doing in the field and
the actionable insights that arise from it, which can influence
Citizens too, need to be better informed so they know how to
demand that their elected officials make clean air a priority.
These efforts—bringing data and evidence from specialists to
decision makers and growing public demand for clean air—can
together play a role in policy change and more effective
c) Build movements
Lastly, there is still a great need to create consistent, crisp,
and relatable public messaging around the effects of air pollution.
Not only would this help avoid confusion around the problem, it
would also increase the urgency for action.
Take for instance, the
Save the Tiger campaign. They focused their communications on
just one number—1,411, which was the number of tigers left in the
world. This was enough to inspire urgency and action.
Compelling messaging like this does not exist in the air quality
debate right now. There is a need for innovative communication
strategies to reach the masses—we need to leverage social media,
influential personalities, and the press—so that people are
empowered with the right knowledge and tools for action. This will
allow the air quality crisis to grow into a movement.
3. Enable solutions
a) Strengthen enforcement capabilities
Many parts of India are experiencing air pollution at hazardous
levels. Yet, pollution control measures are at best reactive and ad
hoc. The courts, and now the central and state governments, have
set up various committees, designed action plans and schemes, and
issued prohibitory orders in order to address the crisis at hand.
But these measures to regulate and control emissions are
This is where philanthropy and policy can go hand in hand.
Directing funding to address specific problems has limited impact
if the lessons learned are limited to grant recipients, and not
disseminated for the greater good. Foundations are often in a prime
position to impact policy because of their influence and
There is a need to support a variety of efforts, including
analysing and recommending policy, providing technical assistance
to government bodies, and strengthening enforcement
b) Boost innovation
There are many ways in which philanthropy can boost innovation,
some of which include supporting:
- The design and implementation of financial products that
incentivise retro-fitting polluting technologies
- Urban plans that reduce transportation pollution
- Research and development for alternate large-scale uses for
pollution in the air, or agricultural residue which is otherwise
burned and causes pollution
Lastly, donors can play an important role in facilitating
collaboration, be it between implementing organisations, academics,
practitioners, government departments, the public and private
sectors, and so on.
Doing so involves not only working towards getting a larger
community of diverse stakeholders involved, but also helping them
to collaborate at local and other levels of administration. For
example, the NCAP is not connected to the work of the pollution
control board in every state—bridging this gap would enable
resources to be pooled together, instead of having people working
in silos, on overlapping or similar issues.
Similarly, donors can collaborate—for instance, a foundation
with expertise in air pollution can work with another focused on
maternal and newborn health, given the inter-linkages between both
The general adage for philanthropy is that donors shouldn’t
limit themselves to issues they can influence during their
lifetimes. We are learning that we need to let go of our compulsion
to see the change we seek. But in the case of the air quality
crisis, the opposite is true.
Provided we choose to step into the ring, this is a fight we can
most definitely win in our lifetimes. The time for us to act
together is now, because every breath we take depends on it.
- Learn about what AQI is and how it is measured.
- Understand how
air pollution is linked to impaired judgement, mental health
problems, poorer performance in school, and higher levels of
- View this
one-page infographic on why climate change is important for
- See how the world’s most polluted air
compares with your city’s.
- Check out the India Climate
Collaborative, an India-focused collaborative that seeks to
direct funding and visibility towards climate action in India.
This story was originally
published by India Development Review (IDR)
Air Pollution: A Problem We Can Solve in Our Lifetime appeared
first on Inter Press
Shloka Nath is Executive Director, India Climate
Air Pollution: A Problem We Can Solve in Our Lifetime appeared
first on Inter Press
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Air Pollution: A Problem We Can Solve in Our Lifetime