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Emojis fire up North India, skulls hover over Delhi as map captures air quality in real-time

real-time air qualityAn interactive map created by AirAirAir.org shows North Indians are breathing poison. Literally. Hundreds of emojis on this map paint the northern part of India bright orange, as if it’s on fire, while skulls hovering over the National Capital Region of Delhi are an ominous sign of Delhites are inhaling every day.

AirAirAir.org, founded by NRI Amrit Sharma, monitors global air pollution in real-time providing updates to thousands of users. Sharma, who describes himself as a data enthusiast and an accidental journalist on Twitter, founded AirAirAir.org when he moved from Minneapolis to New Delhi, and realized that he could no longer take clean air for granted. “I believe that clean air is a basic human right, and I believe that air quality data should be as easy to access and understand as weather data,” he says.

Sharma was also of the view reporting of air quality values just as figures made little sense to people. “Except for my friends who are air quality scientists and a few who are hardcore air quality data enthusiasts, I don’t know anyone who really understand AQI values. For example, ‘The air quality index in Toronto is 42’, or ‘The air quality index in Delhi is 429’. Besides knowing that a higher number means more air pollution, the AQI values don’t provide much value or context at all to the vast majority of us,” he adds.

The 30-year-old turned his vision a free-of-cost and very convenient real-time air quality reporting by launching AirAirAir.org, where one just needs to register with an email to get a live updated satellite imagery of the air quality worldwide. AirAirAir.org also has a live chat feature on Facebook Messenger for those interested in air quality updates via live chats.

Sharma started AirAirAir.org because he wanted to “democratize real-time air quality data in the world by making it as easy to access and understand as weather data.”

As is highlighted in the map, the smog and dense clusters of smoke around Delhi are emanated from Haryana.  Indiscriminate and reckless bursting of fire crackers also pollute the environment, with emitted flames of chemical compounds used in manufacturing crackers. When the Supreme Court of India banned the sale of crackers around the national capital, most of the citizens wholeheartedly welcomed the verdict and breathed a sigh of relief, even if for a short while. The judicial ban on firecrackers did have an impact but a lot more needs to be done at the legislative and the executive level to see a marked improvement in the air quality in our cities.

real-time air quality
Heavy pollution around North India can be clearly seen

Also Read: Entire Gangetic Plain suffers from Delhi-like air pollution, reveals satellite data

Real-time air quality monitoring and mapping

Wouldn’t it be great if just using a smartphone, people can get air quality updates, just like weather forecasts and notifications on traffic congestion nearby?

AirAirAir.org also has a cartoon bot named Smoky who answers pollution related queries and apprises people of the air quality levels near them.

real-time air quality
Smoky – The air quality reporting cute bot

There are many methods and reports online to statistically quantify air pollution and find the particulate matter content in air. However, most of them are updated either weekly or sometimes even monthly.  On top of that, the reports are laced with technical terminologies and jargons, which provide an accurate picture but do not present the scenario in a simplistic way, so that even a layman can understand it.

In the AirAirAir.org map, emoji’s (the types that we all are so familiar with) are prominently marked to highlight the various pollution levels. A glowing dark yellow emoji depicts the region which is most likely the source of pollution.  A dark red warning skull emoji portrays a region where air pollution is a threat to health, environment and life.

The absence of graph, tabulations, charts, indexes and replacing them with interesting satellite imagery, makes the maps easy-to-observe, delivers the serious message without gratuitously didactic tone and plays its part in creating public awareness.

The menace of air pollution

Air pollution causes close to 7 million premature deaths every year. That’s nearly 28,000deaths every single day. The WHO calls it a “greater threat than Ebola and HIV.” In India alone, half a million people succumb to polluted air annually. Clean air is as fundamental a human right as potable water and aware governments are taking stringent steps to curb pollution and improve air quality.

Zabol, a city in eastern Iran, is the most polluted city in the world trailed by two Indian cities: Gwalior and Allahabad. 4 Indian cities feature in the list of to 10 polluted cities and this is something that we cannot afford to take lighty or brush aside with a nonchalant shrug.

real-time air quality
Pollution map of middle East and large parts of Asia and Eurasia

Other than government initiatives, laws and programs that create awareness about the health risks that polluted environment poses, it is equally important to provide real-time air quality mapping.

Looking at the positive responses and the active participation on AirAirAir.org, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that this awareness will translate into action plans and community projects to devise new methods for combating pollution.

New Delhi can learn from Beijing which was synonymous with air pollution for more than 2 decades. But good policies, swift implementation, relocating pollution causing industries, replacing coal-fueled power plants with natural gas ones, and pledging 76 billion dollars in 2014 to clean up the air, has shown a marked improvement in air quality in the Chinese capital.

Also read: Maps reveal top ‘toxic’ nations in the world