|2||Bandung, West Java|
|3||Medan, North Sumatra|
|6||Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan|
|7||Semarang, Central Java|
|9||South Tangerang, Banten|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Sidoarjo, East Java|
|2||Samarinda, East Kalimantan|
|3||Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan|
|6||Sampit, Central Kalimantan|
|8||Bogor, West Java|
|10||Matur, West Sumatra|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
Indonesia is a country that lies between the Indian and Pacific oceans. It consists of over 17 thousand islands, which makes it the world’s largest island nation. It covers an area of almost 2 million square kilometres and has a population of approximately 267 million, according to a census conducted in 2018. In 2019 it ranked as the 6th most polluted country out of 98 contenders worldwide. The average US AQI figure for this year was 141 with levels of PM2.5 being 5 times over the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) exposure recommendation.
In South Tangerang, for 10 months of the year, the air quality is classed as “Unhealthy”, and for the remaining 2 months, it falls into the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category. “Unhealthy” figures are between 55.5 and 150.4 µg/m³, whilst “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” are between 35.5 and 55.4 µg/m³. In the city of Pekanbaru, a “Very unhealthy “figure was recorded in September this year with a concentration of 214.9 µg/m³.
What are the main sources of air pollution in Indonesia?
Without a doubt, most of Indonesia’s air pollution comes from forest fires. During October 2015, there were nearly 5,000 fires simultaneously burning across forests and peatland. In just one day, approximately 80 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) were produced. This was five times more than that of the entire US economy. The remaining pollution is produced by the transportation and energy production sectors.
Emissions from coal-fired power plants are rapidly increasing over the west side of Java. There are currently seven power plants within 100 kilometres of Jakarta and there are plans for a further 5 to be built to satisfy the increasing demand for electricity. This will be equivalent to adding another 10 million cars to the road network.
The extremely poor air quality in Jakarta is due to the aforementioned power stations as well as transport emissions, household emissions, the construction industry, road dust and unchecked burning of forests and agricultural land. All of this happens daily and affects the lives of its 25 million residents.
Some 57 citizens have come together and formed a coalition with the intention of taking legal action against the government by submitting a Citizens’ Lawsuit at the Central Jakarta District Court. One of their key demands is that the government adopts stricter policies concerning air pollution regulations. The current regulation dates back to 1999 and does not reflect the effects of climate change and the worsening levels of air quality. They are also demanding that the government improves the monitoring of the situation and that the results from such are made readily available to the public.
Two legal statutes guarantee the right to clean air, the 1945 Indonesian Constitution and the 1999 Law on Environmental Protection and Management.
According to IQAir.com, operated by the reputable Swiss company, air quality is gradually getting worse. In 2017 a PM2.5 figure was recorded of 29.7 µg/m³ or “Moderate”. In 2018 this figure rose to 45.3 µg/m³ or “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” and showed another increase in 2019 when concentrations measured 49.4 µg/m³, on average. These figures were recorded in the capital Jakarta but reflect the general trend throughout most of Indonesia.
By contrast, the cleanest air can be found in the city of Denpasar on the island of Bali. With a US AQI reading of 66 and a PM2.5 concentration of 19.4 µg/m³, it falls into the “Moderate” category (12.1-35.4 µg/m³).
In June 2019, at the end of Ramadan, it is traditional for families to return to their home provinces for a few days to visit remote family members. This exodus from the city is noticeable through the improvement in the air quality due to the almost total lack of traffic. One day before the start of the holidays, Jakarta recorded the worst ever levels of air pollution. This was based on figures noted by AirVisual, the air quality monitoring app. The recorded figure was 210 US AQI which ranked Jakarta well above other badly polluted cities such as Delhi, Beijing and Dubai.
An AQI figure is based on the measurement of five most abundantly found pollutants in the air. Mainly the fine particulate matter of PM2.5, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ground-level ozone (O3). Any recorded figure of over 100 is considered to be “unhealthy”, so a figure of over 200 is classed as being “very unhealthy”. These are based on the recommended guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Unfortunately, the problem of air pollution is not a new issue for Indonesia as their air has been heavily polluted for years. Throughout the whole of 2017, the US operated monitoring stations recorded a mere 26 days when the quality of air could be classed as “good”. Most of these days were in the rainy season when the heavy storms clean the air by washing the pollutants away. Because of this, it is said to reduce the life expectancy of its residents by 2.3 years. Out of all the pollutants suspended in the atmosphere, it is the fine particulate matter of PM2.5 that causes the most problems. These microscopic particles are inhaled deeply into the lungs where they dramatically increase the risk of a shorter life expectancy due to heart disease, strokes, pulmonary disease, and acute lower respiratory disease.
Out of the 44 sub-districts in Jakarta, 16 of them report “upper respiratory infections” as being the most prevalent cause of illnesses. Almost 2,000 babies were recoded to have low birth weights and over 7,000 Jakartans die prematurely because of constant exposure to polluted air.
According to data measured at a weather station in Central Jakarta for the first 6 months of 2019, there was a slight measurable improvement to the air quality. The level for 2020 was 24.33 µg/m³ compared to the corresponding period of time for 2019 when it measured 28.57 µg/m³.
The cost to human health from the effects of heavily polluted air is shocking. After the notably bad burning season in 2015, it was reported that over 75,000 cases of patients suffering from upper respiratory infections needed medical assistance. It is said that over 57 per cent of Jakarta’s population suffer from respiratory problems directly linked to air pollution. Bronchial asthma, bronchopneumonia, and coronary artery diseases are the most common occurrences. Several new coal-fired power plants have recently been built to help meet the increasing demand for electricity. This 35,000-megawatt project is expected to increase the number of premature deaths from air pollution to almost 30,000.
In September 2019, it was reported that an estimated 10 million children were at risk from air pollution because of the wildfires that were burning out of control in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Small children are especially vulnerable because they breathe more rapidly as their lungs are not fully developed and their bodies’ defences are not fully developed. UNICEF states that air pollution can have adverse effects on babies, even before they are born. This can result in low birth weights and often the babies are born prematurely. Over 2.4 million children under the age of five were living in Sumatra and Kalimantan whilst the fires were burning. Every year, many of the schools temporarily close due to the polluted air which leads to children missing out on vital education.
Peatland and forest fires are common during the dry season in Indonesia but it is getting worse due to extended droughts and global warming.
UNICEF understands the importance of warning the affected families about the dangers of air pollution and is currently working with the Indonesian government to try to find a solution.
It is generally believed that the regulation and control of land management needs to be stronger. The government needs to lay down guidelines stating how State Forest Land can be used. A limited amount of permits for exploration of the peatlands and forested areas should be introduced. New developments could be licensed by the government and strict checking and enforcement need to follow. Peatland canals could be formed to help with the drainage and irrigation. It is imperative that the stock of Indonesia’s forest carbon is protected and not allowed to become depleted. Sustainable forest management and conservation need to be encouraged as well as rehabilitation and regeneration of degraded areas.
Indonesia must break away from its reliance on fossil fuels as a means of power generation. The emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need mitigating in order to enhance energy security and protect reserves for the future. The latest technology needs to be embraced such as the “clean-coal” system. This is in itself a complex process which involves many different procedures. The carbon emissions are captured and stored under the earth, but the disadvantage is that it is an expensive system and is extremely difficult to retrofit to existing power plants.
The transportation sector needs to be brought up-to-date too. Many vehicles in Southeast Asian countries are very old and therefore lack the modern technology that is installed in newer models. The latest motorbikes switch off the engine when they detect no forward movement. This prevents vehicles standing idle at junctions waiting for the traffic signals to permit them to move forward.
It has been suggested that they could adopt European emission standards and introduce Euro 4 regulations in 2021 and then the tighter restrictions of Euro 5 in 2025.
Most people already know that climate change is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels in transportation, manufacturing processes and power production, but certain agricultural practices can also make major contributions. One of the main causes of this is the burning of organic matter to prepare the land for the next crop or to extend the agricultural area by burning adjacent scrubland and forests.
The worst time of year for this in Indonesia is the autumn after the dry summer. In 2015 it was particularly bad because of the extra-long dry season and a fierce tropical storm, the fires raged out of control for months. The whole of Indonesia, together with parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore was engulfed in a toxic haze. This caused schools, airports and public services to close because of the unhealthy conditions or lack of visibility.
The Global Fire Emissions Database stated that for most of the months of September and October the readings exceeded all economic activity in the US and, in total, produced more carbon dioxide than the entire nation of Germany.
Whilst most of the fires are started by small farmers, it is generally not for their benefit but for large foreign conglomerates who are demanding more and more production capacity. These monocrop plantations dominate Indonesia’s countryside with the most common ones being for palm oil production. Indonesia is now the world’s main producer of palm oil with a 2015 production figure of well over 31 million metric tonnes. This is a 50 per cent increase in the 2008 figures.
In order to address this situation, the legal status of small-scale farming communities needs to be established. The Indonesian government regard slash and burn as a crime against humanity.
Out of Indonesia’s 472 million acres of land, 75 per cent is classified as “State Forest Land” which is a misnomer.30 per cent of this land actually does not have trees growing there, instead it has bushes and shrubs and other low growing vegetation. This is ideal Slash and Burn land! The smaller farming communities often live on this land but with no legal right to do so. Because of this, they have no access to legal protection or any governmental services. They sometimes farm the area for their own use, but it is mainly done on behalf of the international companies who demand more land for palm oil production. There is no incentive for them to adopt sustainable farming methods because they know no better.
There are foreign NGOs working in partnership with some local groups who have helped them attain legal rights to cultivate over 37,000 acres of State Forest Land in a sustainable way. Slash and Burn techniques are strictly not permitted in these areas yet output and also income have increased.