A toxic smog cocktail brewing over Jakarta

Endless smog: Firefighters attempting to extinguish a fire at a landfill in Bekasi, near Jakarta. — AP

AGAINST the backdrop of smokestacks from a nearby coal 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.

Suryana has spent more than three decades living in the shadow of the power plant in northern Java, near Jakarta.

She and other villagers have watched as their loved ones suffered from coughing fits, itchy skin and other health problems that many believe are partly because of the ever-present smog.

Pollution is causing a rise in respiratory illnesses and deaths in northern Java, including Jakarta, experts say.

Smog in the metropolis of 11.2 million people comes from a combination of the coal-fired plants, vehicle and motorcycle exhaust, trash burning and industries, and many in the city are demanding that the government take action.

Emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to greenhouse gases that rise into the atmosphere and help heat the planet, a key focus of the United Nations climate conference, or COP28, which begins next week in Dubai.

Countries like Indonesia are struggling to balance rising demand to power industrialisation with the need to cut carbon emissions and protect public health.

In 2010 Suryana watched as his sister-in-law died from lung problems. In 2019, the dirty air seemed to worsen his daughter’s bout of tuberculosis.

“We’ve clearly suffered an impact,” he said.

Data gathered by IQAir, a Swiss air technology company, regularly ranks Jakarta as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Blue skies are a rare sight and the air often smells like petrol or heavy smoke.

Normally healthy residents complain of itchy eyes and sore throats on days when pollution levels soar past levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation and Indonesian government.

Air pollution potentially contributed to more than 10,000 deaths and 5,000 hospitalisations in Jakarta in 2019, according to research by Vital Strategies, a New York-based public health NGO.

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-fuelled vehicles to electric vehicles.

Public transport remains limited and electric vehicle uptake has been slow. However, the government is pushing to have more than 530,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. — AP

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