Pollution in Indonesian capital leaves residents breathless

Photos by Yasuyoshi Chiba and Bayu Ismoyo.Video by Bagus Saragih

From a hospital connected to a ventilator, Asep Muizudin Muhamad Darmini stared outside at the haze as pollution increased in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Air pollution is nothing new for this megacity of about 30 million people, but this year’s impact is far worse, according to activists and pollution control groups.

Under increasing pressure, the government is beginning to recognize the impact of the industry on the fog that has shrouded the capital. In recent weeks, it has sanctioned 13 companies for not complying with the rules and ordered some officials to work remotely and conduct emissions tests on vehicles.

Ahead of a regional summit last week, it even cut power generation at its Suraya coal-fired power plant near Jakarta in an attempt to reduce high concentrations of PM2.5 particles, a pollutant that can penetrate into the deepest parts of the lungs.


Even so, for several days over the past month, the city appeared to have topped a ranking of the world’s worst air quality, according to Swiss pollution monitoring company IQAir.

Dalmini tried to protect herself by wearing a mask and exercising regularly, but to no avail.

“I feel helpless, no matter how hard I try to stay positive and live normally, my body cannot fight the pollution,” the 35-year-old told AFP.


The director of Indonesia’s main respiratory disease hospital explained that infections and pneumonia cases increased by “20 to 30 percent” between March and July compared with last year, although he could not clearly attribute this to pollution.

Pollution arises from many causes. Factors such as rising temperatures, changing wind patterns and topography can affect the concentration of harmful particles.

Experts also made it clear that polluting energy sources such as coal-fired power plants, which are common in Indonesia, are also contributing to this situation.


Data modeling from the Center for Clean Energy and Air (CREA) suggests that emissions from coal-fired power plants in Indonesia will cause 10,500 deaths and $7.4 billion in medical costs in 2022.

The Asian country, the world’s fourth most populous country, has pledged to stop building new factories from 2023 and become carbon neutral by 2050.

But its authorities are already facing legal action over the slow progress and its impact on people’s health.


Cempaka Astriani blames poor air quality for her six-year-old son’s persistent cough.

“The government does not seem to fully understand our rights and obligations,” the 35-year-old said. “What I feel is more than just anger. I’m very disappointed, I feel hopeless,” she added.

Children are among the most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, as early exposure to air pollution in their still-developing bodies can have lasting effects.


“If children frequently get respiratory infections, their lung growth may be compromised. This can lead to chronic health problems,” said Feni Fitriani Taufik, a pulmonary specialist at Persahabatan Hospital.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has been criticized and apparently the victim of a severe cough, insists that new trains opening in the capital in August will help alleviate the problem.

The capital will be moved next year to the new city of Nusantara on the island of Borneo, a move also aimed at reducing pollution.

Widodo also appointed a special anti-pollution team, although it is headed by a minister who is reportedly a shareholder in a company with interests in coal mines.

The minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, said criticism of Indonesia’s dependence on coal by developed countries was hypocritical.

On the other hand, gaps in Indonesia’s climate commitments mean new coal-fired power plants that are already in the planning process or to power other plants could be built.

According to CREA, this could lead to a 70% increase in pollution emissions by 2030.

Asriani and Dalmini pledged that they would consider candidates’ anti-pollution plans in February’s presidential election. But currently, no popular country has proposed a strategy to transition to clean energy consumption.

“This is a systemic problem,” Dalmini said. “I don’t want us to get to a point in the future where we have to buy clean air,” he added.


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