Jakarta’s exceedingly unhealthy air quality has caused residents to file a lawsuit against the Indonesian government over its failure to address dire air pollution that has worsened in the last month.
According to the IQAirVisual index, which tracks the air quality of cities around the world in real time, Jakarta topped the world’s most polluted city chart at least half a dozen times in June, surpassing notoriously polluted cities such as New Delhi and Beijing.
A group of 57 plaintiffs — including environmentalists, civil servants, artists, businesspeople, and others — are filing a civil lawsuit against the government. The lawsuit particularly targets the country’s president and its ministers of health, home affairs, and environment. The legal case will also target the governors of Jakarta, Banten, and West Java, according to the Jakarta Post.
“We hope that through this lawsuit the government can improve existing policies and take effective steps to overcome air pollution because current policies are not working,” Ayu Eza Tiara, a lawyer from the Jakarta Legal Institute, which is handling the case, told the Guardian.
“In the last week of June, based on our data, the air pollution index is often really bad,” said Ayu, “It is often high in the red zone, which is classified as very unhealthy.”
About, 7,390 Jakartans die early every year due to high levels of unhealthy particulate matter in the air. The severe air pollution is also the cause for low birth weights in about 2,000 babies each year, according to Greenpeace Indonesia. Sixteen out of 44 sub-districts in Jakarta list “upper respiratory infection” as the leading cause of illness.
Residents are also raising awareness about the issue by sharing photos of the Jakarta’s smog and pollution using the hashtag #SetorFotoPolusi or #UploadPollutionPictures on social media.
IQAirVisual’s index analyzes air quality based on measurements of six main pollutants, including particulate matter (PM) — micro particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, the finest type of air pollutant, which can easily be inhaled and create serious health issues. The index ranges from 0-500 and a number between 201-300 is considered “very unhealthy.”
On June 25, Jakarta registered an air quality index (AQI) of 240 according to the dynamic IQAirVisual index, much higher average ratings.
The eight coal-fired power plants situated near the Indonesian capital contribute to its poor air quality, as well as emissions produced by vehicles, waste burning, construction, and dust and household emissions.The factors impact the lives of about 25 million residents, but the government has yet to acknowledge the problem.
The acting head of Jakarta’s environmental agency dismissed the alarming June readings, saying that the government “doesn’t really respond to real-time data.”
The right to clean air is guaranteed under the Indonesian constitution as well as by the 1999 Law on Environmental Protection and Management. However, the current regulations for the detection and regulation of the country’s air quality dates back to 1999, when the law was created. According to the lawsuit filed by the citizens, these laws urgently need to be updated to address the decreasing air quality, new technological advancements contributing to pollution, and the current climate crisis.
"I speak on behalf of not only my organization but as a resident who has no choice but to breathe polluted air,” Nur Hidayati, Director of WALHI (Indonesian Forum for the Environment), told the Jakarta Post in June.
“To breathe clean air is our right that the government has to fulfill.”