By Shaili Datta
Air pollution in India isn’t new. Decades of growth in industrialization, transportation, crop burning, and other sources have drastically increased the amount of pollution in urban areas. Even while walking through Delhi, the most polluted megacity in the world, almost nobody wears a pollution mask on an average day.
So, how can Indians protect themselves? Is it by petitioning the government? Planting more trees ? Using an enormous water gun to capture airborne polluting particles? It’s actually simpler than that. It’s data.
Indians are quite tech-savvy and aware of the issue of air pollution. However, not many of them keep track of the problem. They wait until they can physically see the smog get bad or there’s breaking news in the media. Pavan is here to change that.
Pavan is a new platform, consisting of a website and mobile app, that will make checking pollution levels as easy as checking the weather on a weather app. Such a comprehensive platform has never been offered in India as of yet.
Once the Pavan platform has been completed, users will be able to wake up in the morning to a push notification telling them what the current air quality is and how to act accordingly. For example, on days with severe pollution levels, they’ll get a notification telling them to put on a pollution mask when they go outside. Users will also be able to create personalized logins depending on whether they’re parents, asthmatics, etc., so that they can receive advice that’s appropriate to their vulnerability level.
Once the user opens the app, they’ll be taken to a screen where they can check real-time air pollution levels in either their location or in the rest of their city. An animated map will allow them to visually see the movement of particulate matter across the city. They can also check air pollution forecasts for up to the next 72 hours, allowing them to plan to go outside when pollution levels are low, just like you can use a weather forecasting app to plan for rain.
The platform will also include an educational section with short articles discussing topics such as how pollution affects children’s health, or to debunk commonly held myths about air pollution using academic research. For example, it is a commonly held belief that planting urban forests can help ameliorate air pollution, but the effect is actually negligible. Users will also be able to view user-friendly resources breaking down the jargon around air quality, such as what PM 2.5 or PM 10 are, and what the number in the air quality index actually means and how it’s calculated.
A third section outlines various solutions — users can opt to receive tips on reducing their pollution exposure and alerts during peak pollution times. They can also streamline purchase and delivery of anti-pollution equipment to their houses, with the platform encouraging users to buy well ahead of “bad air days” to avoid shortages and delays during these times.
Finally, the app and website provide a platform for users to upload photos and report what they see to the government, such as illegal trash burning. Users can also connect the platform to their social media channels so that they can inform others and pressure big polluters to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
The Pavan team plans to test the product this summer and release their platform in Delhi later this year, and then hope to soon expand to other cities in India.
The founding team was inspired by the success of IPE, an organization that successfully brought about an environmental revolution by mobilizing citizens to transform environmental governance in China. The IPE created the Blue Map app, which educates users in China about air pollution and allows them to see who the biggest polluters in their area are. By reporting polluters on social media and to the government, users of the Blue Map app have been successfully able to pressure factory owners and influence policy.
The Indian population has been ready for a similar change for far too long. Pavan wants to be the catalyst to drive the future forward, and empower urban Indians to take control of their health and environment.
About the Author: Shaili Datta is a student at the University of Chicago and a co-founder of Pavan, a startup that fights air pollution in India through information transparency.
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