Pictured: Jakarta air quality status, "Unhealthy" to “Very Unhealthy,” 7 May 2019 (10:15, UTC-7). Source: IQAir
In 2018, the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, observed an average annual PM2.5 concentration of 45.3 µg/m³ or micrograms per cubic meter, more than three times greater than the target set by the government (15 μg/m³), and four and a half times the guideline set by the World Health Organization (WHO) of 10 μg/m³. PM2.5 is particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller.
Jakarta observed an average annual PM2.5 concentration of 45.3 µg/m³, more than 3 times greater than the target set by the government, and 4.5 times the guideline set by the WHO.
Pictured: Annual data as recorded by IQAir AirVisual reveals Jakarta’s annual PM2.5 concentration rose by over 150% from 2017. Source: IQAir
The alarming figure made headlines, as the 2018 World Air Quality Report determined Jakarta to be the most polluted city in Southeast Asia. This data only reconfirmed what citizens already knew: that Jakarta’s air pollution is on the rise and taking a toll on the health of local residents, the city’s most vulnerable population in particular.
Activists warn of lawsuit
On December 6, 2018, citizens within and supporting the Gerakan Inisiatif Bersihkan Udara Koalisi Semesta (Coalition for the Clean Air Initiative), came together to protest government inaction to improve city-wide air quality.1The group warned that unless urgent action was taken in the following 60 business days, they would file a citizen lawsuit with the Central Jakarta District Court.
After several mediation meetings were held between activists and the government, a lawsuit was filed on July 4, 2019.2The suit was directed against seven officials, including the president of Indonesia, three government ministers, and three governors.
In 2019, thirty-two citizens came forward and became witnesses in the suit.
Activists’ message: Implement existing legislation
The sources of pollutants are understood by the government.
Sources of airborne pollutants impacting the city include vehicle and factory emissions as well as coal-fired power plants. Apart from PM2.5, airborne pollutants identified from these sources include:
Other regions of Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia and Singapore are seasonally affected by forest fires and crop stubble burning that runs from July to October in nearby Sumatra and Kalimantan.3 Crop burnings are common in South and Southeast Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Thailand. The Coalition outlined 36 governmental regulations previously in place which need stronger enforcement from the government. Regulations include:
- emission tests
- cleaner-energy public vehicles
- commitments to more green spaces
- laws against burning household waste
Jakarta faces continuing air quality challenges
Concerns about air quality in Jakarta have grown in the years following the demonstration. According to the 2020 World Air Quality Report, Jakarta’s annual average airborne particle concentrations were still measuring as high as 39.6 μg/m3.
In 2020, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan acknowledged that air pollution was a major threat to the city and was responsible for over 5 million illnesses per year.4
Without effective governance in support of local laws, the over 10 million Jakarta residents find their health avoidably at risk from poor air quality.
While cheap energy and rapid growth can be achieved in the status quo, mobilized action as presented by the Coalition and supporters is required to ensure economic progress doesn’t come at the high cost of human health and livelihood.