The tenth anniversary of the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has been marked with the installation of a vast projected artwork on London’s South Bank.
Nine-year-old Ella, who lived in Lewisham near the busy South Circular Road, was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death at a UK inquest, after she died from a fatal asthma attack in 2013.
The artwork to mark a decade since her death, called ‘Breathe’, was projected onto the side of the Rambert Building, by Waterloo Bridge, on Wednesday evening.
The switch-on event featured speeches and performances from campaigners as well as London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said the recommendations made by the coroner in Ella’s inquest “weighed on” his mind when he decided to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez).
Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, has campaigned to raise awareness of air pollution over the last ten years.
Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, backed by Khan, is calling for MPs to pass ‘Ella’s Law’ – new proposed legislation which would require local councils to bring air quality up to minimum World Health Organisation standards within five years.
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Government figures estimate that more than five per cent of all deaths in England are attributable to air pollution, comprising around 30,000 people annually.
Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said passing ‘Ella’s Law’ would “save lives and be a fitting way to honour her memory”.
She warned: “Children continue to die with asthma. Ella was concerned about whether other children had what she had, and at that time, the answer was no, but children continue to die, and in our great capital city, we lose between eight and 12 children every year.”
In his speech, Khan said: “I’m not prepared to have on my conscience the early death or life-limiting illness of another Londoner when such an outcome is preventable.”
He urged MPs to back ‘Ella’s Law’, adding that he was himself “choosing to put public health before political expediency” by pushing ahead with the ULEZ expansion.
The expanded ULEZ will cover all of Greater London, and will require drivers of non-compliant vehicles to pay a daily charge of £12.50. It is expected to affect around 200,000 people.
The proposed expansion has come up against opposition from several outer London councils, who have warned the move will create an additional burden during the cost of living crisis.
Boris Johnson, the Conservative former prime minister and Khan’s predecessor as mayor, said in a Wednesday tweet that the expansion was “mad”, warning it “will hit hardworking families and businesses in outer London with an unfair tax grab.”
Speaking after Wednesday’s event, Khan responded: “We’ll take no lectures from Johnson about the importance of taking action to clear up the air in our city. I’m not willing to delay action.
“Every year around 4,000 people die [from air pollution in London]… That’s not good enough.”
The mayor has announced a £110m scrappage scheme, to which Londoners can apply for grants to scrap or replace a vehicle that does not comply with the Ulez exhaust emission rules. Khan said Johnson should lobby the government to provide more funding for that scheme.
‘Breathe’ – the artwork projected onto the South Bank – will be in place for three days, and is the latest iteration of a piece created by artist Dryden Goodwin. The projected animation depicts Ella’s mother Rosamund “fighting for breath”.
Goodwin said he hoped the piece would “play a part in this call to action to pass Ella’s Law and enshrine our human right to breathe clean air”.
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