Where there was fog, you now see smog. Cool mist is replaced by stinging smoke. What used to be the onset of the winter season in Delhi, is now better defined as the pollution season.
And as we approach the peak of this ‘pollution season’ with Diwali just around the corner, worries of the implications of such poor air quality on one’s health and questions of how to tackle them are on the rise among many.
#myrighttobreathe is one such citizen-led movement trying to spread awareness about the risks of physical activity in times of pollution, especially to school going kids.
Taking their efforts a step forward, they have teamed up with Gita Sinha, a US-based public health expert who also works with the NGO Care for Air and Laveesh Bhandari, an environmental policy economist and director of the Indicus Foundation, to design a set of protocols called ICARe.
At a press conference held in Delhi, on Wednesday, 23 October, Gita Sinha and members of #MyRightToBreathe introduced the first phase of ICARe. Their main aim being the spread of awareness about responsible sporting among school administrations, event sponsors, event organisers, participants, stadiums, sports clubs, and especially parents so they can rationally plan and monitor their child’s outdoor activity.
What is ICARe? And Why You Should Care
“There is an urgent need for consistent and rational actions to protect our children, NOW,” said Gita Sinha at the conference.
A large part of the Indian Child Activity Recommendations (ICARe) protocol is directed towards children and safeguarding their health as they are ‘the most vulnerable to the harms of air pollution’.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare, president of Care For Air.“Most sporting events, particularly those at schools happen during the winter. And unlike voluntary sporting events, children at schools don’t have the agency to decline participation.”
“This is the reason we need government-mandated regulations across schools on outdoor events and sporting activities,’ Lavakare added.
ICARe is primarily aimed at promoting responsible scheduling of community sporting events and rationally planning outdoor activity of children by synthesizing the amount of physical activity that can be safely undertaken by different age-groups of children and senior citizen during the different levels of AQI categories outlined by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The Guidance, according to Sinha, is designed to allow for outdoor physical activity while at the same time considering how to minimise exposure to harmful outdoor air pollution. The Guidelines for outdoor activity are based on the 4 parameters of:
- level of exertion
- Duration of exercise
- The air quality
- Existing medical conditions
It is also the first guide that is adapted to the Indian AQI and health advisory categories and recommends levels of activity accordingly. It also includes all the contributing components recorded in CPCB’s AQI calculations such as PM2.5, ozone PM10, and other pollutants.
At the Conference was also Dr Vivek Nagia, director of pulmonology and chest at Fortis Healthcare, who weighed in on the issue, saying that, “respiratory problems are only the tip of the iceberg. Poor Air Quality doesn't just affect your lungs but your whole body’s functioning. It can also lead to seemingly unrelated problems such as heart problems, psychiatric and psychological issues, dementia and much more.”
Dr Vivek Nagia“People used to come to me complaining about breathing problems and wonder why they got it, now they are already aware of the pollution levels and its harms and infer that it may be a side effect of it.”
He also pointed out that apart from the policy changes of restrictions on construction and demolition, factories in cities and vehicular emissions, there are some small yet significant steps that we as individuals could take to minimise pollutants in the air. One of which is controlling smoking as, according to Dr Nagia, it is one of the major contributors to the emission of pollutants into the air.
Is All Hope Lost or Can Air Purifiers Be Our Saviours?
Dr. Nagia also spoke about the hot topic of air purifiers and their effectiveness.
“Although it cannot be recommended as a go-to solution to everyone as they can be pricey, they could prove beneficial, especially to those suffering from lung ailments such as bronchitis.” He Said.
“We spend about 80% of our time indoors and breathing clean air even for a few hours a day definitely would not do any harm.” He added.
Having said that, he also emphasised that certain points must be kept in mind while using air purifiers. These include changing the filter periodically, keeping the room sealed and keeping in mind the size of the room while choosing a purifier.
Dr. Nagia warns against taking walks and exercising outdoors early in the morning, contrary to popular belief, as smog levels are highest during this time.
Dr Santosh Harish, Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, spoke to FIT about outdoor air purifiers and the future of their large scale implementation.
The Delhi Government, according to Dr Sisodia, has agreed to a collaboration with #myrighttobreathe in order to not only implement the outdoor activity guidelines in schools but also install all the schools in the region with emergency kits.
(FIT is launching its #PollutionKaSolution campaign. Join us by becoming an anti-air pollution warrior. Send in your questions, your stories of how to tackle air pollution and your ideas to FIT@thequint.com)
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