How sensor journalism could impact policy making, lead to real change in India

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Above: Screenshot of #Breathe, IndiaSpend’s realtime air quality index

India was home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet according to a study by the WHO last year. According to World Health Organization’s data from 2014, the Indian capital Delhi was the most polluted city in the world with an average PM2.5 level of 153 micrograms per cubic meter. That is the most harmful 22 most harmful to human health. A more recent study by US and Indian scientists went even further, showing that the city’s air quality is far worse than previously thought if measured near roads and not on top of buildings. 

Sensor journalism usually adds a completely new level of data and understanding to the reporting. While data journalism relies on the accessibility of third party data, sensor journalism, produces data itself, by using low-cost sensors. 

That’s why non-profit data journalism initiative has now launched “#Breathe,” a network of low-cost sensors to measure the air pollution in major Indian cities. Data gathered by the network of sensors will be published here

As the accuracy of the data increases if a growing amount of sensors will be used, IndiaSpend turned to its community to ask for help, following a crowdsourcing approach. Interested people can now buy sensor boxes and operate data stations on their own, which will also contribute to the sustainability of the whole project. The crowd was also invited to contribute to help to increase the quality of the data by helping to set up criteria, which could improve the measurement itself. Once data will be available such public fact-checking could lead not only to policy action but also to several other initiatives to improve the health situation of the community. One such initiative is to correlate air quality to respiratory diseases and another to distribute information to residents via push messages.

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