Jakarta residents join forces to sue government over poor air quality

JAKARTA • Fed up with Jakarta's pollution, 57 people have joined forces to sue the government over poor air quality in the Indonesian capital.

Grouped under the Capital Advocacy Team and represented by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), the residents are set to file a citizen lawsuit against the government at the Central Jakarta District Court on June 18.

LBH Jakarta attorney Ayu Eza Tiara said the lawsuit would be addressed to President Joko Widodo, the Environment and Forestry Minister and the governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java provinces.

"Of the 57 plaintiffs, 20 are environmentalists who were already involved when the (citizen lawsuit) was planned and 37 are civilians of various backgrounds," Mr Ayu said on Sunday.

The 37 people include students, teachers, employees from the private and public sectors, business people, lawyers, researchers, app-based motorcycle taxi drivers and senior citizens. All of them registered on their own at the complaint centre that was set up during April by LBH Jakarta to prepare the lawsuit.

Through the team, Mr Ayu added, they would like to push the government to take action to address air pollution by creating stricter policies that have a significant impact on reducing air pollution in the capital.

Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy campaigner Bondan Andriyanu said the government has been using the 1999 regulation on air pollution to issue policies related to the matter.

"(The regulation) has to be updated with new stipulations as air pollution has gotten worse," he said. As an example, he referred to PM2.5 levels - pollutants measuring less than 2.5 microns - that have been found to be above the World Health Organisation's safe limit of 10 micrograms per cubic m.

Mr Bondan said PM2.5 levels in Jakarta can hit 34.5 mcg per cu m and could pose a health threat, especially to children.

PM2.5 particles can pass through the respiratory system and enter the blood, which could cause various illnesses such as acute respiratory infections.

Health threats are the main concern of Mr Ramli Laukaban, a resident of South Tangerang whose child suffers from sinusitis.

He joined the advocacy team to fight for better air quality in the interest of children in the city.

"My child experiences sinusitis only when we are in (Greater) Jakarta. When we go abroad where the air is cleaner, everything is fine," he said.

Curious about the air quality in the city, he bought several PM2.5 detectors and installed them in his house. "I found out that at one time during the night, the concentration of PM2.5 in my house could reach 300 mcg per cu m," he said.

According to the data he collected, he noticed fluctuations of PM2.5 concentrations throughout the day. He said the levels are highest from night until dawn, and surprisingly, the lowest point is in the afternoon.

"If the government said that pollution is mainly caused by transportation, I don't think the data supports that. There must be something greater than the emissions of cars and motorcycles," he added.

According to Greenpeace, aside from the millions of vehicles in the city, the poor air quality was also caused by coal-fired power plants located in neighbouring areas. The emissions from power plants are reported to form 33 per cent to 36 per cent of air pollution.

A Greenpeace report in 2017 titled Jakarta's Silent Killer revealed that eight coal-fired power plants operate within 100km of Jakarta, producing hazardous pollutants that spread to the capital city.

Another plaintiff candidate is videomaker and biker Andito Hari Nugroho. He usually rides his bike from his house in Pondok Bambu, East Jakarta, to meet his clients in Central or South Jakarta. He said it is difficult to travel in the morning as he has to compete with many other vehicles.

"I always tell clients to meet after 10am or 11am. I usually run out of breath if I ride my bike earlier than that. I can't imagine the amount of carbon and other bad particles I inhale," Mr Andito said.

Another plaintiff candidate is Ms Nur Hidayati, director of non-governmental organisation Indonesian Forum for the Environment. She cited Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution about the right to live in a healthy environment.

"I speak on behalf of not only my organisation, but as a resident who has no choice but to breathe polluted air. To breathe clean air is our right that the government has to fulfil," she said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2019, with the headline Jakarta residents join forces to sue government over poor air quality. Subscribe