Jakarta air quality during pandemic lockdown

The sky seemed blue for once in the eyes of Jakartans, some even claimed to smell fresher air as they commuted past the lesser traffic during lockdown. Emission level may seem thinner, but a harmful air pollutant such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), persists.

Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), on a report co-released with Greenpeace, said the fear of pandemic had variably impacted the air quality of Southeast Asian cities. The level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) showed significant decreases year on year in Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok, particularly due to halts in transporation and manufacture activities. Similarly, Kuala Lumpur even recorded 60 per cent drop.

But PM2.5, at the diameter size of 2.5 micrometers, continues to loom Jakarta, as it had been for years, despite NO2 down 40 per cent YoY, making it still the most polluted region in Southeast Asia, according to CREA analyst Isabella Suarez, in a press release received at ASPI desk last Friday.

Judging from the 1 Januari – 22 April 2020 data, she is convinced that the air pollutant is emitted from the surrounding industrial regions of Bodetabek, and the coal-fired plants especially in Cilegon, Banten, and Indramayu, West Java.

Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy spokesperson Bondan Andriyanu said in a teleconference on 30 April that Jakarta is surrounded by a number of coal power plants (PLTU) in radius of 100 kilometers. Among the emitted substances is PM2.5.

There are 5 such plants currently in operation, with additional 4 planned.

According to Greenpeace Indonesia, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry repeatedly dismissed the capability of these plants bringing impacts to the capital region, pointing on the rampant construction activities instead.

Meanwhile, difference in standard measurements adds up to the risks, and remain unreconciled. WHO tolerate up to 25 microgram per cubic meter per 24-hour, not to mention aiming for annual mean exposure threshold of 10, whereas the Indonesian government, as stipulated in the Air Pollution Control Act Peraturan Pemerintah Nomor 41 tahun 1999 tentang Pengendalian Pencemaran Udara, set the limit 2.5 times higher at 65 per day, or annual threshold at 15.

Based on data from United States-based air-quality website AirNow, the annual PM2.5 concentration in Central Jakarta in 2019 was at average 40.1. This year, daily average was 30.13 from March 16 to 25, and 15.48 from March 26 to April 4.

Data by AirVisual, one of the world’s largest real-time air quality information platforms, suggested that visual clarity the Jakartans brag about recently does not translate into good air quality, looking at the 16 March to 14 April records.

For example, air quality on 13 April, referring to the United States Air Quality Index (US AQI) was recorded at 113 with PM2.5 concentration at 40.2. By US AQI standard, Jakarta air quality that day was “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.

The 2019 Air Quality Report by IQAir ranked Jakarta the 5th most polluted capital of the world, behind Delhi (98.6), Dhaka (83.3), UlaanBaatar (62), and Kabul (58.5).

In Southeast Asia, 5 top polluted cities are all Indonesian: South Tangerang (81.3), Bekasi (62.6), Pekanbaru (52.8), Pontianak (49.7), and Jakarta (49.4).

The following COVID-19 Air Quality Report covering 10 cities with historically high levels of PM2.5 pollution, however, underlined the biggest drop in Delhi average PM2.5 rate to 32.8, outperforming Wuhan at 35.1. Both cities entered moderate level by WHO category.

Environmental group Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Walhi) in a slightly pessimistic tone urged the specific health-prone group living in Jakarta to wear protective masks, on the absentmindedness of the government, when interviewed mid last year.

On a separate discussion held by Komite Penghapusan Bensin Bertimbel, Jakarta, an activist even perceived the act of ignorance by the authorities as a violation of human rights, taking into account pasal 9 ayat 3 Undang-Undang nomor 39 tahun 1999 tentang Hak Asasi Manusia, stating a person’s right to live in a good and healthy environment.

In August 2019, 31 citizens grouped in Tim Advokasi Gerakan Ibu Kota sought legal action against the government for the losses caused by air pollution, in this case, the president of the Republic Indonesia, the ministers of environmental and forestry, public affair, health, governors of Jakarta, West Java, and Banten.

In tackling the issue, Jakarta Environment Agency head Andono Warih said in October that the Jakarta governor has issued a decree named Instruksi Gubernur Nomor 66 Tahun 2019. 

The final verdict of the citizen lawsuit is still pending, possibly until late 2020, a source with a knowledge of the situation said.


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