Just another hazy, polluted day in Delhi. But despite the weather last Friday, the mood in the GP India team was sunny and full of anticipation.
It's been almost two years since the Government started its clampdown on Greenpeace India. The period since then has been one of the toughest times we’ve experienced as an organisation, although there have certainly been ups as well as downs.
So when we heard we had been nominated for the eNgo challenge awards - in the category recognising the best use of website and internet tools - it was a little chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Not to mention the promise of a team trip to the awards ceremony in Delhi!
As we hopped into a taxi and headed to the venue though, the nasty mix of smog, vehicle exhaust and smoke turned thoughts to air pollution, an issue we’ve continued to campaign hard on throughout the crackdowns.
The car drew to a halt at traffic lights; the red of the lights accompanied by a second red board, communicating another warning. This was a digital Air Quality Index (AQI) board displaying air quality readings - a rare sight in India but one most visible in Delhi.
We asked the driver, Pushpaker Singh whether the AQI readings helped him to protect him and his family from toxic air. He gave an unequivocal ‘no’. He sees them every day but finds no real value in the AQI display - to him it was just colour without meaning.
This is a tale we’ve heard all too many times. The information which the current crop of AQI stations displays is not clear enough - people don’t know what the different levels mean or what precautions they should take to protect themselves against air pollution as a result. Worse, the displays are both too few and too concentrated in Delhi.
Our driver added that he wouldn’t bother taking any precautions until it got to the point where he had to go to hospital. He also informed us that his daughter suffers from asthma. Sadly, his daughter is not alone. 35% of schoolchildren in India have poor lung health.
He was confident that the Government is aware of the issues but thought their lack of action on air pollution was probably a result of a general confusion. Still, he welcomed existing Government initiatives, like the plan to incentivise drivers to replace their old vehicles with more energy-efficient modern ones.
We asked him to look after himself a bit better and wear a face mask when the AQI level went past 200. Let’s hope he takes the advice! And that together we can create a cleaner future for our children. I for one believe strongly that we can.
The eNGO ceremony itself was fantastic. It was incredibly inspiring to hear about NGOs - tiny and large - who are making use of the new technologies at our fingertips to reach new audiences and increase their impact.
We heard about grassroots level livestock workers, who are usually entrepreneurs and commonly known as “Para-vets”, who are using a smartphone app to deliver cattle health services to smallholder cattle farmers living in remote rural areas. And the non-profit using new digital platforms to help give visually impaired children access to the the rich world of children’s literature. A non-profit which collects unused surplus food left and working towards “Zero Food Wastage.”
Seeing the level of passion and innovation amongst the NGO community in India gives me great confidence for the future. Both that we can come together to harness these new technologies to tackle pressing issues like air pollution, and also that civil society can overcome the challenges ahead to continue to thrive and shape India’s future.
We were thrilled to be invited onto the stage to receive a special ‘Chairman’s Mention’ award for the best use of website and internet tools. To cheers and applause, the host told us, “it is an honour to honour you.” A special moment for all of us. This award is for all of our supporters who have stood by us to continue to campaign for a better India and a better planet. Thank you! Your support keeps us going.
As we left the awards, the buzz of the ceremony still fresh, the AQI board read “275 Unhealthy”. The words of poet Robert Frost came to mind.
‘The woods are lovely,
dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.’
We may have miles to go, but we are on our way, and will not stop until we reach our destination.
Stand with us and join the Clean Air Nation.