Medan, Indonesia – Professor Istu Prayogi spent the nineties living in the congested capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, struggling all the time with a runny nose, headaches and shortness of breath.
It turned out that the problem surrounded him and he was not the only one suffering.
“A lung specialist diagnosed me with spots in my lungs caused by air pollution,” Al Jazeera Istu, a professor at the Nusantara Jaya Tourism Academy, told Al.
“The government did not pay attention to the poor air quality in Indonesia.”
Istu, who has since moved to the satellite city of Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta, is one of 32 applicants for a “citizen demand” milestone which aims to hold the government accountable for violating the right of Indonesian citizens to clean air.
The Jakarta Central District Court will rule on the case on June 10, after nearly two years of legal disputes over who is to blame for the city’s regularly polluted dirty air, which is among the world’s most polluted. according to global air quality indices. .
In 2019, a study produced by Vital Strategies and the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT) found that Indonesia had the highest number of premature deaths associated with air pollution in Southeast Asia. The report also found that in Jakarta, levels of fine particles (PM 2.5), the most dangerous pollutant to health, routinely exceeded four or five times the air quality guidelines of the world. ‘World Health Organization”.
As part of the citizen lawsuit, a legal maneuver in which private citizens traditionally file a lawsuit in an effort to enforce a statute and a tactic that is often used in environmental law cases, plaintiffs do not seek financial compensation. , but hope that legal actions will increase public awareness on the issue of air pollution in Jakarta and pressure the government to act.
The lawsuit appoints the president of Indonesia, the minister of environment and forestry, the minister of internal affairs, the governor of Jakarta and the governors of the provinces of Banten and West Java.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have demanded that the jury presiding over the case declare that the defendants have been negligent in enforcing citizens ’rights to a healthy living environment and order them to tighten national air quality standards.
“We need a stronger legal framework and more progressive laws and sanctions in relation to air pollution,” Leonard Simanjuntak, the country’s director of Greenpeace Indonesia, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told Al Jazeera. private citizen.
Human rights issue
More than 10 million people live in Jakarta, but that number increases by more than 30 million once those of its five satellite cities and surrounding regencies (the site of thousands of industrial estates and production centers) are included.
“This case is so important because we already know that breathing clean air is our right as humans,” Bondan Andriyanu, a Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy advocate, told Al Jazeera.
“Air pollution on a current scale clearly violates the rights to life and health, the rights of children and the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This human rights perspective changes everything because the government then has clear and legally applicable obligations to respect, protect and enforce human rights. [of the citizens]”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016 it was estimated that outdoor air pollution (environmental air pollution) would cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide, 91% of all which occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with a higher number of these deaths occurring in the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific regions of the WHO.
The WHO standard for annual ambient air quality is 10 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter of air, while Indonesia’s national standard is 15 micrograms.
But Bondan says official data on fine particles, known as PM2.5, received by Greenpeace from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) since 2020, a year in which the coronavirus pandemic meant that the amount of traffic was lower in a few months – it showed 28.6 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
“If we compare our national ambient air quality standard with the WHO standard, we are still far behind. Even during the pandemic, the annual PM 2.5 data in Jakarta was above the ‘national standard of ambient air quality,’ he said.
“My son rarely goes out to play”
Elisa Sutanudjaja, director of the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta, also joined the lawsuit.
She told Al Jazeera that she was aware of the poor air quality in Jakarta when she was pregnant and that her fears about the effects of air pollution have only increased over time.
“As the father of a ten-year-old girl, we almost always use public transportation in Jakarta or walk,” he told Al Jazeera. “But we found that we could not enjoy our travels due to pollution, especially due to the fumes of motor vehicles. Today, my son rarely goes out to play.
According to the 2019 report by Vital Strategies and the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT), for which BIT air quality experts took samples from three Jakarta sites during the wet and dry seasons, the main sources pollution from the city come from vehicles, secondary aerosols such as ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, construction activities, open burning of biomass and other fuels, paved road dust, suspended soil particles, sea salt and coal combustion.
“The regulations of coal-fired power plants in Indonesia and their emissions are so relaxed,” said Leonard of Greenpeace. “There are coal-fired power plants on the outskirts of Jakarta and, if we use mathematical models, it is clear that emissions lead to the city.”
In addition to tightening regulations on coal emissions, the plaintiffs also expect the government to rethink its entire town planning strategy in the city.
“The central government, through the Ministry of Public Works, continues to insist on the construction of toll highways, even though private vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution,” Elisa said. “I hope that through this demand, there is an established strategy to change this model of unsustainable development and mobility policy.”
“As long as the development model continues to focus on the car, there will be no significant improvements.”
For their part, the defendants have rejected the suggestion of being responsible for the harmful air in Jakarta.
“The people filing the lawsuit have also contributed to the decline in air quality,” Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who is listed as defendant V in the citizen lawsuit, told the media.
“Unless everyone rides a bike, it would be different. Air quality is not only caused by one or two professions, but by all of us, including those who filed the civil lawsuit. “