38 South Asian Cities Pledge to Fight Air Pollution to Mark UN Day of Clean Air for blue skies

Thirty-eight mayors and city representatives from six countries in South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives – have called for greater action to improve air quality, on the occasion of the United Nations’ first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on September 7, 2020.

To mark the day, the city administrators have signed a pledge to use their authority towards reducing air pollution, in an initiative driven by ICLEI South Asia, an international network of local and regional governments that is committed to promoting sustainable development.

Acknowledging the importance of the day, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India Prakash Javadekar said in a message: “The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change fully supports this initiative of the UN. Guided by the vision of the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which was launched in 2019, will be taken up on a mission mode.

SEE PLEDGES FROM ALL COUNTRIES HERE: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka

“We are happy to note the commitment made by several organisations to curb air pollution and they have our full support in facilitating actions and resolve to improve air quality and building capacity in the country.”

Speaking about the need for clean air plans, Atul Bagai, Head, UNEP Country Office, India, said: “UNEP and partners are supporting India’s NCAP by converging efforts for Agra under its Clean Air Action Plan. While solutions for air pollution have been identified, sectoral cooperation is crucial. Adequate monitoring, source attribution, health impact analyses, stakeholder engagement, and effective enforcement of control measures can contribute to successful implementation.”

Talking about the city plans, Hon’ble Shakti Singh Choudhary, Mayor, Gangtok Municipal Corporation said, “Gangtok city is committed to providing better living conditions to our citizens. We are working with ICLEI South Asia to develop the Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and aim for cleaner air and bluer skies through nature-based solutions.”

The pledge, signed by the South Asian cities, says, “We welcome the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies and acknowledge the need for enhanced stakeholder engagement at all levels, and to promote and facilitate actions to improve air quality. Breathing clean air is a fundamental human right.”

Extending his support to the cause, Ahmed Ziyan, Deputy Environment Minister, Government of Maldives, said, “Air pollution is the biggest threat to our health today. The people in the Maldives have been fortunate to have clean air so far. I congratulate the UN for this initiative. I thank ICLEI South Asia for its partnership support in this regard. This will go a long way in securing human well-being and raising awareness that we cannot survive without clean air.”

Commending the cities for their clean air actions, Emani Kumar, Deputy Secretary-General, ICLEI, and Executive Director, ICLEI South Asia, said, “We have been seeing blue skies in our cities, thanks to the lockdown. But such short-term environmental benefits are no substitute for planned and sustained action. Thus, ICLEI South Asia is supporting several cities to prepare action plans and implement them so that they can see blue skies in the future.”

In his statement, Md. Zannatul Ferdous, Mayor, Singra Municipality, Bangladesh, said, “In our recovery from the pandemic, it’s important that we strive to curb another invisible killer, air pollution. On the occasion of this new observance day, let’s resolve to fight both threats with the same determination.”

Cities in South Asia have been championing activities to monitor and curb air pollution, such as the installation of ambient air quality monitoring stations, preparation of clean air action plans, scientific closure of dumping and landfill sites, creation of no-vehicle zones, and strategic interventions in urban redesigning.

However, several parts of the region had been grappling with high levels of air pollution prior to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an analysis of ambient air quality of five Indian cities in the July 2019- June 2020 period, ICLEI South Asia has found a clear incremental trend in Coimbatore, Siliguri, Thane, and Udaipur (Rajkot fared better) from October 2019 to January 2020, when the particulate matter stayed longer in the air during the cold winter air.

Talking on the same lines, the Hon’ble Uday Madkaikar, Mayor, Corporation of the city of Panaji, said, “The corporation of the city of Panaji would like to appreciate and support the initiative taken by the UN to observe September 7, 2020, as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. The increasing air pollution in urban areas is becoming a grave issue in the Indian context and its detrimental effects on human health are now evident. Air pollution is also closely linked to climate change. As we are looking forward to a sustainable future, we are proud to sign the pledge and make the commitment to develop measures to bring down air pollution in our city.”

“Udaipur is known for its green and blue vistas. Today, air pollution has become a global crisis, and as Mayor, it is our fundamental responsibility to protect the public from this invisible killer. That’s why in Udaipur, we took various measures to mitigate air pollution”, said Hon’ble Govind Singh Taunk, Mayor, Udaipur Municipal Corporation.

The signatories of the pledge are:
INDIA – Bhuj; Dalhousie; Gangtok; Jamnagar; Kanpur; Kochi; Kurseong; Lucknow; Mandi; Nagpur; Panaji; Patna; Port Blair; Rajkot; Shimla; Siliguri; Surat; Thane; Thiruvananthapuram; Udaipur
NEPAL – Dhulikhel; Dharan
BHUTAN – Gelephu; Phuentsholing
BANGLADESH – Narayanganj; Rajshahi; Singra
SRI LANKA – Anuradhapura; Colombo; Badulla; Batticaloa; Dambulla; Kaduwela; Kandy; Nuwara Eliya; Polonnaruwa; Ratnapura; Federation of Sri Lanka Local Government Authorities (FSLGA)

The major sectors contributing to air pollution are transport, industry, and construction, besides factors like burning of biomass & refuse and re-suspension of road dust.

However, the air quality index improved dramatically in these cities during the national lockdown, with all of them recording “good” and “satisfactory” AQI levels, as the following graph shows:

Analysis of AQI in the July 2019-June 2020 period in five Indian cities

*(AQI data collected from air quality monitoring stations managed and operated by the respective municipal corporations)

Post resumption of economic activities, as the effects of the pandemic ease, it is predicted and observed that air quality in many South Asian cities is again deteriorating. The health impacts due to rising pollution levels have been widely reported. It is, therefore, imperative for cities to act rather quickly to curb increasing pollutant concentrations and sustain the environmental gains seen so far.

1. Average daily data of individual AAQMS have been used to arrive on monthly average AQI.
2. For some particular months, day-to-day AQI and other pollutant concentration value was not available. Hence, monthly forecasts have been made based on limited available data.
3. Thane City AQI data for July and August 2019 was not available, hence it is not included in the assessment.
4. In all the cities, variation in data trends and values were observed due to several reasons including temperature inversion during winters, increased vehicular movement intensity on a certain day due to festivals, improvement in AQI due to COVID-19 lockdown, which restricted various economic activities such as construction & vehicle movement between March 2020 to June 2020, the shifting of AAQMS to new locations and calibration and technical operational issues of AAQMS.