India has a shocking thirteen cities that are ranked among the world’s most polluted, many of them concentrated in an expanse of land riddled with coal-fired power plants and extremely low electrification levels. Delhi is at the epicenter, with one of the lowest levels of air quality of any major city in the world. Many experts have gone as far as to say that breathing the air in Delhi is worse than smoking regularly. Despite this, most of the people in Delhi are unaware of how bad the air is and the impact this can have on their health.
Purpose Climate Lab is addressing this issue through the Help Delhi Breathe campaign. The campaign focuses on teaching people about air pollution, allowing them to confront the reality of the situation while also encouraging them to mobilize around the issue and demand change.
After initially being turned away by the government on the issue of solar power, Help Delhi Breathe rolled out a strong social media campaign (including the use of ads like the ones above) and took a unique convening approach by targeting subsets of the population that are most affected by air pollution and then empowering those individuals to make change. For instance, Help Delhi Breathe brought together auto rickshaw drivers – who are exposed to polluted air for extremely long portions of their day – to circulate a petition and share information about air pollution amongst their passengers.
This method of spreading information led to a local coalition of unprecedented diversity. Tens of thousands of people mobilized around the issues on social media and demanded change from the government through a missed call petition. The campaign brought together organizations in Delhi that have long been working independently on these issues. Live public gatherings brought together thousands of people, resulted in dozens of media hits. The campaign increased pressure on the government to act.
This time, the government responded, due in part to the ways in which the campaign engaged with them on social media and through the diverse coalition. The campaign was one of a series of efforts that ultimately led to the governmental passage of a new policy on solar power, a commitment by the Health Minister to improve the accessibility of air pollution data and its impact, the promise of public health advisories on air pollution, renewed commitments to reduce biomass burning, and more! The coalition is continuing to push for long-term change.
The Purpose Climate Lab is constantly learning from and expanding its campaigns. The success of the Help Delhi Breathe campaign has informed the Lab’s work to promote solutions to air pollution in other states in India, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Through this work the Lab expects to impact emissions that cause air pollution and climate change, while creating new development and livelihood opportunities throughout the entire region.