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How one Indian city is taking on air pollution

Ahmedabad, India aims to protect its most vulnerable from dangerous air pollution.

Cities are the incubators of change. I had the opportunity to see city leadership in action during my recent visit to Ahmedabad, a rapidly urbanizing city in western India grappling with rising air pollution levels. In an innovative step, the city, along with NRDC and other partners, unveiled the draft Ahmedabad Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan. The first of its kind, the AIR Plan is a decisive step by Ahmedabad to protect local residents from the debilitating effects of bad air.

Cities are where services are delivered directly to the people and solutions are developed. Air pollution is a global issue challenging cities around the world, and increasingly across Asia.

As recognized by Ahmedabad, air pollution is estimated to contribute to 1.1 million premature deaths each year in India, a rise of almost 50 percent from 1990, according to the new State of Global Air. City and state governments are grappling with ways to deal with rapid urban development to increase access to basic services, such as sanitation and transportation while combating air pollution.

Air pollution in Ahmedabad, India

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has shown impressive leadership in addressing air pollution and extreme heat. With spiking temperatures and increasing heat waves, Ahmedabad launched South Asia’s first Heat Action Plan in 2013 to protect communities from extreme heat through health-based strategies. The heat action plan has scaled to over 10 cities and is expanding to over four states in India.

Air pollution is estimated to contribute to 1.1 million premature deaths each year in India.

Building on the health-based model of the heat action plan, the Ahmedabad AIR Plan is designed to protect and increase awareness among residents on air pollution. The Ahmedabad AIR Plan is part of a comprehensive program that works with the recently developed Air Quality Index (AQI), supported by technical expertise from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) program. The AQI is a key tool for protecting communities and triggering response actions.  

With the AQI as the center point, the Ahmedabad AIR Plan focuses on health risk communication and creates immediate and longer-term actions to increase preparedness, information-sharing and response coordination to reduce the health impacts of air pollution on vulnerable populations, particularly children.

Developed in partnership with NRDC and the Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar, the AIR Plan incorporates expertise from a broad range of experts, including medical practitioners, education providers and community leaders as well as practices from key cities — Delhi, Beijing, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

We need programs such as the AQI and AIR Plan in cities across Asia to bring more monitoring and a health-based response to air pollution. With the Heat Action Plan, the Air Quality Index and the new Ahmedabad AIR Plan, Ahmedabad is making great strides towards protecting public health and showing the way to cities around the world.

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