One man’s App battle with Air Pollution

This story is about the risk that’s looming over millions of Indians heads on a daily basis. It’s everywhere, its shapeless mostly odourless it’s called the Particulate Matter (PM) and as Indian citizen it causes me nightmares for my children’s health. So this is why I’ve built the new Clean Air Nation App

It comes from the exhaust of vehicles, stacks of coal fired power plants, burning of waste, and dust due to construction. It comes and settles in our lungs causing everything from everyday health impacts like allergies, asthma, and lung damage, to premature death of our children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Some researches tell us that close to 650,000 died prematurely due to air pollution in India in 2010. This number is predicted to increases as India develops – and perhaps some of us should ask what that word‘development’ means?

India has 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world according to the recent World Health Organization report. As a father of two I wanted to do something to highlight the dangers they face – which affect 35% of school going Indian children. But what to do?

The obvious answer would surely be to tackle the problem of air pollution by reducing emissions at sources. But in India that’s not going to happen quickly – so do people need to continue to suffer from hazardous PM and pollution – or can we introduce preventative measures now. I’m a tech minded guy – so is there some tech I can build which will help?

Earlier this year the Indian government came out with a web platform called the National Air Quality Index (NAQI) that will provide information on a real time basis which could safeguard people from health impacts. Well it would if more people knew about it.

Clean Air Nation app and how it looks on your smart phone

The system is not perfect, it has its shortfalls, the biggest one being that the platform throws up numbers which are not easily accessible and understood by people. It’s confusing and there are no specific directions about precautions to take – or health advisories about what to do on bad air days. And on really bad days in India when the PM levels break the scale at 500, there’s not a lot you can do – but still

Greenpeace India has some unique challenges, and we don’t have big budgets. So the idea of building an App to make this information available is going to be a low (well no) budget affair. It’s going to involve a lot of late nights – but I’m up for a challenge.

So I’d like to introduce the Clean Air Nation app that I’ve built. It not only tells people how polluted the air in their area is but also advises them and local government agencies on what precaution needs to be taken

The App provides recommendations to various categories (children, pregnant women, elderly) of people. The recommendation varies from no action needed on ‘good days’, wearing masks on moderate days to shutting down schools on bad air days. In Delhi there are a lot of bad days.

To keep the information up to date we ‘borrow’ – well scrape data from the NAQI website itself. Hence it comes with its own limitations of providing data for only 16 cities in India (Patna, Muzaffarpur, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Faridabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Chandrapur, Chennai, Hyderabad, Agra, Lucknow, Varanasi and Kanpur). This leaves large chunks of the country unaccounted for, and sometimes the data from the stations is out of date – which raises more question. So clearly something more needs to be done.

The app is currently available for android users. While giving vital information to the public it will also shows how ill equipped we are as a nation to fight air pollution. For my countrymen who download the app, and discover there is no NAQI measurements in their area – I hope they will be inspired to join our campaign to make India a Clean Air Nation

Download the app


Clean Air Nation app now on Google Play Store

Shivanandan is the Digital Technology manager at Greenpeace India