Urbanization and health, the theme for this year’s World Health Day, may seem to comprise problems so huge—workers’ health, slums, congestion, air quality, safety and sanitation—that personal action seems a tall order.
“The goal of governments and municipalities in addressing urbanization and health should be to invest in health-promoting cities and take actions that encourage social connectedness among city dwellers irrespective of social status. An understanding of the negative effects of urbanization and the shared responsibility for balancing and conserving resources and services needs to be fostered among all urban dwellers,” says Samlee Plianbangchang, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for South-East Asia, in a statement for World Health Day on 7 April.
Mint spoke to three urbanites who are trying to make a difference through individual action as part of WHO’s “1,000 Cities, 1,000 Lives” project.
Community health: an inclusive approach
Connecting individuals across age and social status and making them aware of the health opportunities available to them was the aim of former Asian marathon champion Sunita Godara, director of Health Fitness Trust, New Delhi. The trust’s events for 7 April and 11 April, in collaboration with WHO, address urbanites from diverse backgrounds and spill over to the weekend so that “the entire family—both schoolchildren and working parents—can come,” says Godara.
On Wednesday, the trust—which conducts training and awareness programmes in urban slums—will organize a nutritional awareness programme for schoolchildren and a health camp with free HIV testing at the city’s MCD Community Bhawan in Kalkaji. It is the last in a two-month, city-wide series of programmes for the urban poor.
Ear-splitting: Decibel levels are high on city streets. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
The second event is on Sunday, on the Rajghat Gandhi Darshan lawns. “I want to promote an active lifestyle for all,” says Godara. There will be demonstrations of yoga, aerobics and martial arts. The attempt will be to inspire fellow citizens to find their ‘best fit’ health and fitness solutions—the women’s self-defence demonstration that is planned, for instance, is part of a taekwondo initiative Godara started three years ago at the trust’s Gender Resource Centre, training 200 young women.
There will also be an open-for-all 3km run, an awareness rally with cyclists and pedestrians (from schoolchildren to senior citizens) carrying placards on issues such as tobacco control and AIDS, and presentations on alternative medicine.
Traffic’s roar: a plug-in solution
Ravi Narayan of Bangalore was a marketing executive with Medinova, spending much of the day on his two-wheeler on city streets, until he developed tinnitus and became hypersensitive to loud sounds. While he sought treatment, he realized that his symptoms were worst in traffic.
“I found it too noisy and became unable to concentrate,” he recalls. Seeking relief, he found his own solution in hearing protection devices (HPDs). In 2004, Narayan switched careers to become an anti-noise activist and entrepreneur. Since 2005, his company Ambience India has sold HPDs under the dB Safe brand.
On World Health Day, Narayan plans to park himself at the Bharat Petroleum fuel pump at the junction of Hosur Road and Richmond Road, to distribute “no honking” stickers for cars and demonstrate use of ear plugs against “too-noisy” streets.
A Bangalore-based Samvaad Institute of Speech and Hearing study in 2008 found that peak-hour noise on MG Road in the city reached 99 decibels—the permissible shouldn’t exceed 75 decibels during the day. Yet, Narayan says, “People don’t take care of their ears as they would, say, with their eyes and lungs.” His campaign hopes to change that, and put the answer in their hands.
Car congestion: a self-driven response
Another Bangalore citizen, Rajesh Acharya, is also battling vehicle emissions and noise pollution. “Drive less, breathe more” is the motto of this citizen, director of PinkCRM (a healthcare infotech firm with offices in Singapore and Bangalore) and founder volunteer of People of India (a citizens’ advocacy group for transparency in Indian governance and politics).
People of India is calling on Bangalore residents to observe a Car Free Day from morning till noon on 7 April. “Vehicle pollution being the highest danger faced by city dwellers, all-out efforts to minimize the usage of individual vehicles is essential,” Acharya says. “The very purpose of calling for restraint till afternoon is to discourage owners from taking their cars out in the morning.”
He hopes at least 25% of Bangalore’s car owners will respond to their call.“Some of the group members have participated in Bus Day (usually on the fourth day of every month), an initiative supported by BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation). The response has been encouraging, with around 10,000 more commuters taking public transport such as (the) Volvo city bus instead of personal cars,” he says. Helpfully, this month’s Bus Day is set to coincide with World Health Day.