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Air pollution is a major health risk in India. The country is home to 14 out of 15 of the most polluted cities in the world. But compared to the capital Delhi and cities in Northern India, the air pollution crisis in Bengaluru in Southern India has not been in the spotlight. Cases of child asthma, upper respiratory infections, chronic pulmonary disease, as well as heart attacks in young people are increasing.

Once known as the “Garden City”, Bengaluru has seen profound changes in recent years, with a decline in green spaces, a dramatic increase in vehicles, along with intensive construction activity. The city is now the second fastest-growing major metropolis in India. The sources of pollution in Bengaluru are mainly local, with transport, road dust, waste burning and construction contributing most to poor air quality.

This local nature of air pollution also means there are major opportunities for local measures to clean up the air, and for the health sector to become involved.

Healthy Air Coalition – a health-led initiative

A unique coalition of health researchers, heart and lung doctors, public health institutes and patients who are concerned about the health risks from Bengaluru’s poor air quality have come together to engage for clean air.

Launched on 5 April, the Healthy Air Coalition commits to carrying out fixed and mobile air monitoring initiatives; information-sharing and communication; capacity building of fellow health professionals on air & health; and expertise input into the design and framing of measures for air pollution reduction. healthyaircoalition.org

“The coalition is coordinated by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), in collaboration with the St. John’s Research Institute. In coming weeks, we will install the remaining devices across the city. Air pollution planning and mitigation in the country has been largely limited to improving monitoring and data collection with very little emphasis on the associated health impacts. If the data needs to translate into action, the health sector needs to step in as an important stakeholder in addressing the issue of air pollution in the city and we believe that, through this initiative, we will be able to prioritise public health and place it at the centre of air quality planning and mitigation in the city,” said Aishwarya Sudhir, Air Quality Program Lead, HEAL.

As a first step, the coalition urged the State Pollution Control Board to publish the city-wide action plan on air pollution and hold a consultation with all stakeholders. A first exchange with city authorities took part as part of the launch at St. John’s Research Institute.

Sharing his views on the initiative, Dr. Tony Raj, Dean of the St. John’s Research Institute, said, “As an institute working on improving public health, we believe we have an important scientific role to play in guiding and informing policy that enables effective planning and implementation for improving air quality in the city. Through the Healthy Air Coalition we look forward to engaging and working closely with the concerned authorities including that of the Ministry of Health, BBMP, the State Pollution Control Board and the citizens, to translate scientific knowhow to action and reduce the risk of exposure from air pollution in the city.”

Bengaluru air monitoring network

Monitoring of air quality is essential in order to carry out an assessment of the health burden from air pollution in the city and to determine the most health-promoting clean air measures.

Currently there are only 10 online monitoring stations operating in real-time in the city, providing data 24/7. For a city of 12 million inhabitants, this is inadequate. The regulatory monitors do not capture pollution hotspots and do not record pollution at the breathing level. So there is no possibility to understand individual exposure patterns.

The Healthy Air Coalition will be installing 40 air quality monitors across the city in spring 2019, and also carry out selected mobile monitoring. Fifteen monitors are already running, and their location has been selected in collaboration with health experts.

Data from all of these devices will be publicly available on unmaskmycity.org

The St. John’s Research Institute is a leading partner in the Healthy Air Coalition.

Global momentum for healthy air

The Healthy Air Coalition Bengaluru is part of a growing movement of health professionals worldwide for clean air in our cities. The Unmask my City initiative, which is coordinated by HEAL, the Global Climate and Health Alliance and other partners, brings together doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, and allied healthcare professionals dedicated to improving air quality and reducing emissions in our cities.

This will save millions of lives, improve health outcomes for billions of people, and make a huge contribution to greenhouse gas reductions needed to keep the world safe from climate change crises.

Bengaluru joins Adana, Belgrade, Canakkale, Fresno, Hatay, Istanbul, London, Salt Lake City, Sofia, Tuzla and Warsaw in dedicated health sector activities. unmaskmycity.org