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3 June 2019 Stories from the street: a mobile discussion on air pollution

When air pollution hit alarming levels in India four years back, 30 year-old Tamseel Hussain was watching. So passionate was he about documenting the issue, that he and a…

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When air pollution hit alarming levels in India four years back, 30 year-old Tamseel Hussain was watching. So passionate was he about documenting the issue, that he and a group of mobile storytelling and social media experts built the platform Let Me Breathe.

They haven’t looked back since. What started out as a hashtag used by Delhiites making their own blogs to document high air pollution, has now become  a central platform uniting fragmented stories on pollution, climate change and sustainability across India.

“We wanted to be a part of the solution,” said Hussain. “Most people in India have mobile phones. From the response we were seeing on social media, it was evident that people wanted to tell their own pollution stories. These were the voices we wanted to amplify through our platform and network.”

Hussain created People Like Us Create (PLUC), which uses various formats including TV and #LetMeBreathe platforms to tell pollution stories, shared by everyone – from farmers to school students to waste pickers.

They include students who talk about how they discovered forests around their homes and how pollution affects them—connecting their stories to the global narrative on sustainability and the climate emergency.

They include farmers in Punjab who burn rice paddy stubble after the harvest. “We realized that stubble burning is causing a lot of pollution, and it is important to highlight unbiased stories from farmers involved in the practice,” said Hussain.

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Hussain working with farmers in the field to share their stories on air pollution. Photo by PLUC

Instead of blaming each other, mobile storytelling and training courses helped these farmers raise their own voice and concerns without pointing fingers, said Hussain. One farmer, Grewal, said:

“With a platform and support like Let Me Breathe’s, farmers are finally being heard while also learning more about the damage that stubble burning does to people living in cities like Delhi through air pollution. There is no reason that a bureaucrat, an entrepreneur and a farmer cannot sit down together to find a solution.”

At its core, Let Me Breathe in India is a storytelling and public engagement platform that combines the ethics of mobile storytelling with social outreach. Now, Let Me Breathe works with other communities to train them in documenting their story. Since it started in 2017, more than 320 stories have reached an estimated 90 million people across India and beyond.

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Interviewing people from all different walks of life to spread the word on air pollution. Photo by PLUC

“We want to inspire people to use their mobile phones and tell pollution stories that may not get enough coverage on traditional media, but are crucial for people to make informed decisions. Further, we wanted to simplify the process of getting these stories out and shared with people, just in a few simple steps. That’s where the platform came in,” said Hussain.

These online stories are supported by offline engagements called City Sessions. These sessions bring citizens, decision makers and experts together for live, unbiased discussions focused on pollution problems in a particular city. Let Me Breathe conducts these in partnership with Twitter India and local stakeholders.

The last one happened in Varanasi, one of the most polluted cities in India, engaging representatives from different political parties and local organizations to discuss the city’s pollution levels.

“It’s really about people doing amazing things to make this world a better place, and documenting it, to reach out to others,” said Hussain.

Atul Bagai, Head of UN Environment India, said: “In our fight against air pollution it is of utter importance to pursue a real dialogue using all forms of communication. Mobile phones are a powerful tool to communicate at all levels, especially when dealing with one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.”

You can share your pollution stories on letmebreathe.in

Find LetMeBreathe on Facebook here And https://twitter.com/LetMeBreathe

Air pollution is the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution?

 

The 2019 World Environment Day is hosted by China.

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