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Air Quality Crisis in Jakarta: A Battle Against Pollution and Neglect

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Jakarta, the bustling capital of Indonesia, has gained an unfortunate reputation. Named the most polluted city in the world by IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, Jakarta has found itself confronting serious environmental and health challenges. Thick gray skies and plumes of smoke have been a common sight every morning for its residents, overshadowing the cityscape for the past few months.

Causes of the Pollution Surge

Two major factors are blamed for the deteriorating air quality:

  • Dry Season: Indonesia is in the throes of its dry season, stretching from July to September. Asep Kuswanto, head of Jakarta Environment Agency, highlighted how the air quality has been a pendulum, with significant fluctuations throughout 2023. The dry season, intensified by seasonal wind changes, brings in arid air from the eastern side of the nation, exacerbating the pollution.
  • Vehicle Emissions: Jakarta’s roads are plagued with inefficient and highly polluting vehicles, predominantly motorcycles. According to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, transportation contributes a whopping 44% to the city’s pollution, whereas industry accounts for 31%. The lack of effective public transportation systems makes residents dependent on private vehicles, further congesting the city’s arteries and amplifying the pollution problem.

The Health Implications

The constant exposure to polluted air has led to a surge in respiratory diseases. The Jakarta Health Agency has raised alarms over the spike in health issues due to air pollution in 2023 compared to the preceding year. “The situation mirrors the conditions seen in 2018 and 2019, pre-COVID-19,” noted Dwi Oktavia, head of disease prevention and control at the Jakarta Health Agency. Encouraging the use of bicycles and public transportation, Oktavia emphasized the need for proactive measures.

A City Overburdened

Jakarta’s streets, home to over 11 million inhabitants, with 30 million in the surrounding metropolitan area, are perpetually clogged. The capital has become a magnet for millions commuting from satellite communities, making air pollution a touchy subject.

In a landmark decision in 2021, an Indonesian court charged President Joko Widodo and six other officials with neglecting citizens’ right to clean air. They were mandated to ameliorate Jakarta’s air quality, a directive stemming from widespread discontent over the capital’s smog.

Factories and Power Plants: Silent Culprits?

While vehicle emissions and weather patterns are primary culprits, Greenpeace Indonesia pointed fingers at the dense clusters of factories and coal-fired power plants around the city. They reported that ten such power plants lie within a 100km radius of Jakarta. Plans to expand Java’s Surabaya, one of Southeast Asia’s largest coal-fired power plants, raises further concerns about the future air quality.

Looking Forward: Proposed Solutions

President Widodo has been vocal about the chronic pollution issue in Jakarta. He proposes a two-pronged solution:

  1. Relocating the Capital: A shift from Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo is on the cards. Initially suggested in 2019, the relocation would involve the development of new governmental structures around Balikpapan’s seaport, approximately 2,000 kilometers northeast of Jakarta. Widodo believes this move could alleviate some of Jakarta’s burdens.
  2. Boosting Mass Transportation: Emphasizing its importance, Widodo stated that improving mass transportation systems is imperative. Indonesia’s broader vision is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants this year. Whether these ambitions will translate into tangible improvements in Jakarta’s air quality remains to be seen. For more in-depth data on global air quality standards and comparisons, visit IQAir’s official website.

Conclusion

Jakarta’s air pollution crisis underscores the need for immediate, cohesive action. With a combination of infrastructural advancements, policy reforms, and community awareness, there is hope that the city can reclaim its skies and safeguard the health of its citizens

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