The Pune Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan – a health-based programme designed to protect residents, and increase awareness among them on air pollution, was officially launched on Thursday.
In a joint initiative, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has partnered with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s SAFAR project, Centre for Environment Education and Indian Institute of Public Health- Gandhinagar to implement the AIR Plan.
“We plan to focus on vulnerable communities and draw up city-specific mitigation actions against air pollution,” Mangesh Dighe, environment officer of PMC, told The Indian Express.
The Pune AIR Plan, developed by NRDC and partners, was launched at the webinar ‘Air quality and public health in India: risks from climate change and Covid-19’.
The current pandemic has brought to the fore the importance and the urgency of keeping public health as the focus of our efforts at environment protection. “Pune AIR Plan is one such example which keeps health risk communication at the heart of air quality management in our cities,” said Dighe.
To protect local communities from rising air pollution, the PMC and partners use two interlinked tools: an air quality index (AQI) and the Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan. The AQI and AIR plan are connected to the Pune Clean Air Plan (CAP), as part of the National Clean Air Plan (NCAP), explained Dighe.
The aim is to reduce health risks by strengthening city-level inter-agency coordination and the air quality alert system, and work with local experts to identify key interventions for air pollution reduction. Initially, the School Flags Programme had been introduced as part of this effort so that children are sensitised towards the importance of good air quality levels and display coloured flags that correspond to the Air Quality Index at schools.
At the webinar, Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of NRDC, said the Covid-19 challenge can be used as a wake-up call to be better prepared and to acknowledge the threat that air pollution poses to public health. “These issues of air pollution and climate change are about the health of the people. If we work together, we can protect what is most important – our families,” said McCarthy.
“Measuring air quality-linked health indicators can help Ahmedabad and other cities to achieve their NCAP targets. There is emerging evidence that most polluted cities are worst hit due to Covid-19. However, we need more data to capture the impact of air pollution on various aspects of health,” said Dr Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health.
Continuous assessment of crucial public health indicators at a granular, disaggregated level has the potential to help us identify and prioritise interventions, said Dr Mavalankar.
In his presentation, Dr Gufran Beig, senior scientist of SAFAR programme at IITM, said that Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has been the largest demonstration of our times that Indian cities too can have clean air and blue skies. “Through the creation of scientifically-guided source emission databases, critical early warning systems and robust air quality management plans, Pune and other Indian cities can improve air quality,” said Dr Beig.
“Communication, education and sharing information with the community is essential to protecting public health from air pollution,” Polash Mukerjee, air quality expert and consultant, NRDC, said during the panel discussion.
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