Collaborating for Clean Air

A  conversational piece between Parisar and Blue Sky Analytics, the creators of the Breezo Application recently launched in Pune.

Breezo was launched in Pune in October 2020 as an interactive data platform on air quality. Prior to the launch, Blue Sky Analytics approached Parisar for collaboration in two aspects - inputs on the platform itself and support the launch of the application. This blog has been conceptualised as a conversation between the two parties, which throws light on each party's interest, intention and expectationof this collaboration, all in the interest of cleaner air in Pune. 

Blue Sky Analytics asks Parisar

What propelled a 20 year old, established non-profit, conventionally a segment that is perceived as 'low-tech', forge a partnership with an emerging Climate-tech startup? What message do you hope this conveys to the environmental ecosystem in India? 

Parisar’s broad objective in all of its endeavours, be it air quality improvement, sustainable transportation, heritage conservation has been to make cities liveable and sustainable, and these two concepts are much more interlinked than they may seem. Parisar has been involved in environmental issues from the nineteen-eighties and air pollution, quality of air, major contributors to air pollution in urban areas (such as exhausts from industry, auto vehicles, waste burning, dangerous impacts of all this on human health) is something we could understand without the need to become technically savvy. Environmental awareness also taught us that the unique life support system of the earth was coming under severe strain by man's reckless attitude of human-centric 'development at any cost' attitude where only monetary benefits were measured and environmental costs and damage were ignored (or not understood). 

Our approach to our objectives has always been based on multiple perspectives - scientific, legal, democratic and social. Speaking about Air Quality (AQ) in particular, it is known that monitoring is the most important aspect of air pollution mitigation. Solutions proposed without knowledge on the pollutant profile will hardly improve air quality.
Parisar’s main motivation of collaborating with Blue Sky Analytics was the fact that monitoring is integral for air pollution mitigation and Breezo as an application promised not just monitoring but also an interface which makes air quality a very visual, understandable experience,as opposed to the otherwise technical concept of Air Quality Index. It would indeed benefit Pune’s air quality if more citizens, researchers and other stakeholders have an accessible, understandable platform for air quality information for better advocacy.

How do you see the Pune Dashboard helping the people of Pune? Which sector do you think will benefit from it the most - individuals, research, healthcare, policy and advocacy, city planning etc. ?

The possibilities are many, and it all depends on how the application manages to interact with the different stakeholders mentioned in your question itself. The Pune Dashboard if properly used can help identify the abnormally high concentrations of air pollution in certain areas, help locate the sources and indicate possible remedies including reducing/eliminating the causes of health-threatening pollution.The platform provides ward wise, point wise air quality information,something that can be put to a host of uses such as research on trends of air quality in different wards, suggestive actions to safeguard citizens from the impact of worsening air quality,thereby reducing its health impacts, understanding why certain areas may show consistent air pollution and trying to find solutions over it and so on. 

How does Parisar plan to use this data for its initiatives on air pollution awareness? Any component of the dashboard that you find most useful ?

We would actually like to explore ways of using the data generated by Breezo to come up with case studies - be it ward wise or city based. The fact that Breezo generates ward wise data on air quality is especially interesting to us as an advocacy tool. We are hoping to leverage that specificity in making air quality a very visible, people driven issue over ṭhe years. 

We have also used AQI shared by the SAFAR app before this to carry out comparative analysis on air quality before and after lockdown and to understand seasonal changes in air quality. Breezo could be the source for such periodic analyses too.

As an organisation working in this space since the 1980s, how have you seen AQ data monitoring and the conversation around air pollution evolve in Pune?

There is much more awareness about air quality now than maybe five years ago, and the dire situation in Delhi, the high profile case in the Supreme Court and more recently the launch of the National Clean Air Programme by the MoEFCC may be a contributing factor to it.  However bad air quality being a silent and slow killer,and having a deadly impact on human health has still not created a ‘stir’ or a strong mobilization in the larger population. Pune is still in a better place vis-a-vis air quality data monitoring as there are monitoring systems established by the MPCB, IITM as well as Pune Smart City. There is still lots that can be undertaken with regards to data analysis, presentation and communication of impacts in the larger public. 

Do you think it is time to expand our approach to leveraging new tech like satellites, AI and what advantages do you think these can bring for Pune and the country?

As an advocacy group, it is very evident from our experience that a scientific temper is a must to highlight any issue, and having layers of new technologies which will capture more accurate data is going to support in raising issues far more effectively. Not just Pune, but for any city or the entire country, developing sound technology for air quality monitoring is going to create a basis to formulate better thought out solutions rather than having ad hoc policies. 

Having said that, it is important to be aware that while resorting to technical solutions it is necessary to raise the awareness of the general citizens as well as the law makers about the dangers of poor air quality. Technical options can only help in quick retrieval of data accurate measurement and quantification. Unless there is a threshold of awareness, there is a danger that techno solutions will only help the manufacturers of the gadgets created to measure, analyse and document the data, and yet no change happens in policies required to tackle the sources of pollution. 

On a lighter note, during the course of this partnership and development of the dashboard, were you ever worried regarding the deliverable- what were you most worried about? 

Data reliability continues to be our prime concern when we associate with any initiative as Parisar has invested a lot over the years to gain the trust of the Pune citizens. With air quality monitoring being a complex science, and with different systems of monitoring, and different kinds of monitors, the end results have been found to vary considerably on comparison. Hence, we would like to believe that the dashboard data is reliable, and as close to accuracy as possible. 



Parisar asks Blue Sky Analytics

Founded in 2019, BlueSky Analytics soon dived deep into the issue of air data monitoring. Tell us about the beginnings of BSA, and what motivated you to look at air quality?

Blue Sky Analytics actually started as BreeZo in 2018. Hailing from Delhi, Abhilasha and Kshitij wanted to do something about the air pollution crisis, experiencing the smoggy skies of Gurgaon. Abhilasha had previously worked with the MoEF on air pollution regulation during her JPAL days and recognised that the understanding of air pollution was greatly limited due to poor data quality. Around the same time Sentinel 5p (Satellite by European Space Agency) had just launched- capturing data on air pollution parameters- aerosole optical depth, PM- with amazing granularity and frequency. We realised the power of satellites in dealing with the paucity of  air quality data and that, with Kshitij’s engineering background, we could build scalable infrastructure for such big data analysis. That is how BreeZo SmartAQ came into being. Now of course, Blue Sky is developing sat-based datasets on various parameters- farm and forest fires, emissions, water quality etc. 

While there are several apps developed to track air quality, Breezo’s unique feature has been the use of satellite data. Could you share how it works, and the advantage of using it in combination with the ground monitors? 

Lets try explaining this in simple language! Our data providers National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA ) as satellite sources and the Centrak Pollution Conteol Board as on ground sources pick up insights with varying resolution and frequency. Upstream data's coverage is continuous across space but capped at daily frequency, ground measurements provide near-real time data but negligible spatial coverage, plus are very costly. Creating a mosaic of these sources, training and validating raw satellite data based on ground measurements helps in predicting for locations where there is no sensor. One can smoothen out inconsistencies and plug the gaps by machine learning, that is how we have created BreeZo SmartAQ. Since it is based on training, with time and with improved models the accuracy will keep improving. Another great advantage is that all this data is available via APIs that can be plugged into an evolving set of use cases.

Why did you choose Pune to set up a dashboard? Which other cities have you covered, and how have the cities used the data so far? 

Pune is the first city that we have built a dashboard for. We had set our minds on Pune from the beginning after we were selected to execute the pilot. One, we wanted to highlight that it is not just a Delhi problem, but affects most of this country. Second, we found that Pune had a more aware young population, there was an emergence of startup culture here and the local administration was putting in notable effort in enhancing air quality monitoring here- Smart Cities had put up 50 low-cost monitors and SAFAR was working actively in the area. It was also a manageable region, given its demographics and size.

What possibilities do you envisage with Breezo, and what is your long-term vision regarding the app?

Firstly, we are moving more and more towards data dissemination via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) instead of apps. APIs offer considerable more flexibility to the user and can be plugged into various use cases, such as making your own dashboards even! We can see BreeZo data being used by smart-devices for better user awareness, healthcare sector for better patient treatment by apt predictions, the governments for well-informed action plans & hotspot identification and of course the public for greater awareness. Ultimately, we imagine various use cases evolving around environmental data, not just air quality, and through accessible APIs we hope to cater to all of them. From a student incorporating BreeZo data to their science project to a pharma company using the data for better supply chain management, the possibilities are endless.


Add comment

Security code