JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Against the backdrop of smokestacks from a nearby coal power plant, the sky above Edy Suryana’s village stays grey for months at a time, while ashes and the stench of smoke hang in the air.
For over 30 years, Suryana has resided near a power plant in northern Java, located only 60 miles from Jakarta, the largest city in Indonesia. Along with her fellow villagers, she has witnessed the negative effects of the constant smog on their health, including coughing, skin irritation, and other ailments.
Experts have stated that pollution is responsible for an increase in respiratory illnesses and fatalities in northern Java, particularly in Jakarta. The smog found in this densely populated city of 11.2 million is a result of various factors such as coal-fired power plants, emissions from vehicles and motorcycles, waste incineration, and industrial activities. In light of this, residents are urging the government to take decisive measures.
The release of pollutants from power plants that burn coal adds to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. This is a significant topic to be addressed at the upcoming United Nations climate conference, known as COP28, taking place in Dubai next week.
Nations such as Indonesia are facing challenges in finding a middle ground between increasing energy demands for industrialization and reducing carbon emissions in order to safeguard public health.
In 2010, Suryana witnessed the death of his sister-in-law due to lung issues. In 2019, the polluted air appeared to exacerbate his daughter’s struggle with tuberculosis.
He informed The Associated Press that we have evidently experienced a negative effect.
IQAir, a company specializing in air technology based in Switzerland, consistently ranks Jakarta among the top polluted cities globally. Clear skies are uncommon, and the air is frequently reminiscent of gasoline or thick smoke. Even typically healthy individuals report experiencing irritated eyes and throat discomfort on days when pollution levels exceed the safety standards set by the World Health Organization and the Indonesian government.
According to research by Vital Strategies, an international public health organization based in New York, air pollution may have been a factor in over 10,000 fatalities and 5,000 hospitalizations in Jakarta in 2019.
According to Ginanjar Syuhada, a health analyst at Vital Strategies, pollution levels reach and remain at dangerous levels, posing a risk to people’s health if they engage in outdoor activities.
However, not everyone has the ability to remain indoors.
Misnar, a street vendor who works outside and goes by only one name like many Indonesians, was hospitalized in September. He spent several days in a specialized air chamber to treat his pneumonia, which was aggravated by his regular exposure to polluted air while working. Misnar’s oldest daughter, Siti Nurzanah, shared this information.
Misnar’s doctor advised him to stay home after being discharged from the hospital. However, since he earns a living by selling goods on the street, his only choice is to use face masks to filter out the polluted air he inhales.
Nurzanah expressed her desire for her father, who is 63 years old and has a health condition, to remain at home due to the poor air quality.
A representative from Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has reported a rise in cases of acute respiratory infections and pneumonia. They have also acknowledged that air pollution in Jakarta has surpassed the safe limits set by the WHO.
According to statistics from the Jakarta Health Agency, the number of individuals receiving treatment for pneumonia between January and August this year has increased by over two times compared to the same period last year, with a total of 9,192 cases.
The amount of individuals seeking medical care at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, a leading respiratory facility, for acute respiratory infections and pneumonia increased twofold between January and August.
The dense pollution has a negative impact on the economy.
According to Syuhada, a health analyst, the potential economic impact of this situation could result in losses of approximately 40 trillion rupiah (equivalent to more than $25.2 billion) annually when measured in economic terms.
According to Feni Fitriani Taufik, a pulmonologist at Persahabatan Hospital, individuals of working age are experiencing prolonged coughs and colds. This is a change from the previous duration of only three to five days, as now the symptoms can last for two to three weeks.
Finding a solution to the problem of pollution is a complex task.
According to Indonesia’s Environmental and Forestry Minister, Siti Nurbaya, the burning of coal is a major source of air pollution in the country, despite its low cost. While Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions in the future, coal remains the primary source of energy.
Millions of vehicles and motorcycles spew emissions as workers commute to and within the city. The Indonesian government has called on residents to use public transportation and has given regulation and financial incentives to residents who want to shift from using gas or diesel-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles.
The use of public transportation is still restricted and the adoption of electric vehicles has been gradual. In September, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi stated at a national conference that there are currently 26,100 electric cars and 79,700 electric motorcycles in operation in Indonesia, which is less than one percent of the total number of registered cars (17.2 million) and motorcycles (125.2 million) in the country.
The government aims to have over 530,000 electric vehicles registered in Indonesia by 2030.
According to research conducted by Vital Strategies, the government must also implement stricter regulations for emissions from factories and industries in and around Jakarta in order to significantly reduce pollution levels.
According to Syuhada, the industry is responsible for 30% to 40% of air pollution in Jakarta, in addition to emissions from transportation. Therefore, they should take action.