JAKARTA - Retno Daru’s doctor told her to limit her outdoor activity and put her on medication to help relieve her swollen nasal passages inflamed by pollution in Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta.
This is not an easy task for the English teacher who spends a lot of time outside often taking motorbike taxis to get around the congested city and exercising outdoors.
“It’s really inconvenient, because I swim and now I can’t,” she said.
The air pollution in Indonesia’s capital has become so bad that Jakarta regularly tops real-time charts of the world’s most polluted cities.
Swiss-based app Air Visuals ranks cities in real-time based on an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 0500, with scores of 151-200 being “unhealthy” and 201-300 deemed “very unhealthy.” On June 25, Jakarta peaked at an AQI of 231.
Residents of Jakarta sue
This prompted a group of residents to sue their president and other government officials demanding they revise regulations on air pollution control and tighten national air quality standards to protect the health of its people and the environment.
For the past 10 years Istu Prayogi has experienced headaches and difficulty breathing as a result of the polluted air.
“The doctors told me to wear mask all the time, it’s really uncomfortable. I’m sure there are many others who complain about the same thing and have the same illness,” he said. Though he now lives a suburb outside Jakarta, he worked and lived in the city for 30 years.
Prayogi is one of 31 citizens who joined together to file a lawsuit July 4 saying the government has done little to address pollution in the city.
Change the policy
Ayu Eza Tiara is a lawyer for the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance. Tiara said the organization, which represented the citizens in this class action lawsuit, demanded the government take action on the pollution problem.
“We want a change in public policy, and a tangible act. What are the plans,” Tiara asked. She said the government should provide adequate information to the public on the effect of air pollution and its current condition.
According to Tiara, they have been advocating for cleaner air since 2016.
“We’ve been waiting for the government to make changes and improve the air quality. But there was no such thing, so we have to resort to a lawsuit,” she said.
She admitted the legal process will take months if not years.
“But we are determined,” she said.
In response to the lawsuit, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said last week that Jakarta is a city with a lot of economic activities and air pollution is a product of those activities.
“That’s why I encourage everyone to decrease the use of personal transportation,” he said, encouraging citizens to take public transportation.
Jakarta is home to more than 10 million people and 18 million vehicles, including cars and motorcycles.
Andono Warih, the acting head of Jakarta’s Environment Office, also pointed out that one of the main factors contributing to air pollution is vehicle emissions.
“The cause of pollution in Jakarta, 75% comes from transportation, the rest is industrial and domestic activities,” he said.
Old policy and low standard
The Forum for the Environment (WALHI), an environmental advocacy group, also represented the citizens in this lawsuit.
Tubagus Soleh Ahmadi, the executive director of WALHI, criticized the governor’s response saying he doesn’t understand the root of the problem.
The AQI is based on the amount of particulate matter in the air. These microscopic particles — about 3% of the diameter of a human hair — can be damaging to public health because they can enter deep into the lungs, impact the heart and potentially enter the bloodstream.
“The particle is smaller and certain groups such as pregnant women and children are even more vulnerable. The government does not consider this as the (air quality) standard,” he said.
Ahmadi added that the government should create a list of sources of pollution.
“Yes, the main source is from transportation, what about mandatory emission tests for vehicles and the industry,” he asked.
“Data is important to create the action plan. And the policy, it’s been 20 years and the regulation hasn’t been revised, our quality standard is too low,” he said.