Jakarta’s air has been polluted for years, but residents seem to go about their outdoor activities like it is business as usual.
Some environmental activists have planned a citizen lawsuit against the central government and city administration for “doing nothing” about the pollution, but the wider public has yet to join forces with them to fight for better air quality.
In data sent to The Jakarta Post recently, Air Visual, an air monitoring software company, showed that since 2017, Jakarta’s air has never been categorized as “healthy”. In 2017, the annual average showed pollution as “moderate”, with a fine particulate matter (PM2.5) level of 29.7 or a United States Air Quality Index (AQI) of 88.
The next year, it got worse: PM2.5 rose to 45.3 and the AQI 125. From January to June 25 this year, the PM2.5 average was 42.4 and the AQI was at 118. The figures mean that in 2018 and the first half of this year, Jakarta’s air was “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.
Greenpeace’s recent report, “Jakarta’s Silent Killer”, showed similar data. From January to September in 2017, the US Embassy in Jakarta’s air monitoring devices showed that Central and South Jakarta only had 14 days of “good” air. It experienced 34 days of “unhealthy” air and the rest were either moderate or unhealthy for certain groups.
The World Health Organization has revealed that an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry and past studies have shown that the main cause of the capital’s air pollution has been the emissions from millions of motor vehicles traipsing around Jakarta daily. However, the Coalition for the Clean Air Initiative, which plans to file a citizens’ lawsuit, said it believed that the major causes were the coal-fired power plants and factories in Jakarta and its surrounding cities. Burning waste, which is illegal but rampant, is another factor.
The coalition demands better governance and law enforcement to tackle air pollution problems stemming from factories, coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions.
This week, however, the neglected issue suddenly stole netizens’ attention. Posts about air pollution from some social media influencers have raised discussions about the issue and, later, posts of pictures of Jakarta when the pollution was bad appeared. The circulating pictures made a convincing case that indeed Jakartans needed to do something about it, either by using fewer motor vehicles, or by pushing the government and the respective administrations to take immediate action.
The coalition said there were 36 regulations at various government levels that could help reduce air pollution, including ones on emissions tests, gas-powered public vehicles and the obligation of regional administrations to provide green spaces for citizens. However, the government and regional administrations do not enforce them strictly.
It is time for Jakartans to wake up and smell the pollution and do something about it.