Friday, October 15, 2010

Air Pollution in Jakarta

Author's Note: The following research paper brings to the fore the menacing problem of hazardous air pollution plaguing & threatening the life of Jakarta residents. The environmental situation in Jakarta is indeed grave & crying for urgent attention. Although the observations & solutions to the problem of air pollution in this writeup are Jakarta specific, they are in a large measure true & applicable to several metropolitan cities in the developing world.

Air is the nectar of life without which life is unsustainable. Air pollution is one of the worst enemies of man. It occurs due to the contamination of air due to noxious gases and minute particulates of highly toxic substances that gravely endanger health. The combustion of gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels in automobiles produces carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and lead. The hazardous smoke let out by the polluting industries compounds the problem further. The unmindful use of insecticide and herbicide also contributes to air pollution. Contaminated air can cause breathing trouble, severe respiratory diseases, birth defects and even cancer. It is a slow poison that consumes humans slowly but surely.

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and happens to be one of the most polluted cities of the world. Once beautiful, it has lost its charm mainly due to its highly polluted air. This is how the world famous tour guide ‘Lonely Planet’ introduces Jakarta, “If you can stand its pollution, and if you can afford to indulge in its charms, then Jakarta is one of the region's most exciting metropolises. Consider Jakarta the 'big durian' - the foul-smelling exotic fruit that some can't stomach and others can't resist”.

Fig.1 Jakarta Profile Map, MEI.

High concentration of particulate matter, aerosol and dust in Jakarta makes the atmosphere heavy with haze. The levels of carbon monoxide, hydro carbon, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide in the air happen to be far higher than the permissible levels stipulated by World Health Organization. About 70 % of Jakarta air is contaminated by automobile pollutants and the rest of 30% air pollution comes from dangerous industrial emissions.

Jakarta is severely choked by smoke and carcinogenic gases emitted by innumerable vehicles that dot the city. There are more than 2.5 million motorbikes and above 3 million private cars, buses and taxis in Jakarta polluting the air on daily basis. This number is rising by the day. The visibility in Jakarta is poor even on a clear sunny day. “The major pollutants emitted from gasoline-fueled vehicles are CO, HC, NOx and lead” (Bakir). A pall of smoke and smog makes the air irritating and unhealthy. As a fall out, respiratory diseases have now become the number one killer in Jakarta and the surrounding areas.

Fig. 2. A Regular scene on Jakarta Roads, Albert Ludwig University Freidberg.

The problem of air pollution in Jakarta is directly related with the rapid increase of population over the past a few decades. The population of Jakarta in 1960 was just 1.2 million. It rose to 8.8 million in 2004 whereas the population of greater Jakarta or Jabotabek has swollen to 23 million. Indonesia as a whole happens to be the fourth largest populous country in the world. The unregulated industrialization and rapid economic growth in and around Jakarta has brought about a large influx of otherwise poor populace towards the capital region.

A large number of people daily come to Jakarta to work, as the per capita income of Jakarta is 70% more than the rest of Indonesia. As a result, Jakarta is burgeoning at the seams. The central city of Jakarta has an astonishing population concentration of more than 32000 people per square mile. The government of Indonesia has miserably failed to take measures to address the environmental issues related with a population explosion of this magnitude. The internal air quality in Jakarta homes is 5 to 50 times poorer than outside air in the absence of a positive replenishing cycle. The highly degraded quality of the air outside has a cascading effect on the indoor air in Jakarta.

Fig. 3.

The big Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 deeply affected the economy of Indonesia. In order to rejuvenate the industry and stop the economic downslide, the Indonesian government overlooked all environmental considerations. It promoted industry and enterprise by throwing all norms of environmental ethics to the winds. This can be called the great environmental hara-kiri committed by the Indonesian government. This environmental health of Jakarta was literally sacrificed on the altar of short term economic goals. The industry followed cheaper and highly questionable methods of production that had far reaching environmental ramifications. The air quality standards in Jakarta fell due to the wrong and shortsighted policies of the government.

Lack of government stability further contributed to the problem of air pollution in Jakarta. After the end of President Suharto’s rule in 1998, environmental pollution in Jakarta saw an upward trend. In 2002, President Megawati Soekarnoputri dissolved the Environmental Impact Control Agency without putting in place any solid strategic plan or authority to check air and environmental pollution. The Office of the State Minister for the Environment proved to be a toothless tiger without stringent law enforcement powers to stop pollution.

It is a universally known fact that trees are the lungs of Nature. They cleanse the air of its impurities and provide wholesome air and life-sustaining oxygen. While Indonesia blindly encouraged unbridled industrialization, it failed to stop massive illegal lumbering. Indonesia has 10 percent of the world's forest cover, and has the third largest tropical rain forest. This natural wealth could have played a major role in keeping Jakarta’s air pure and invigorating. Instead, each year Indonesia stupidly loses about 4 million hectares of forest cover due to rapid lumbering and uncontrolled forest fires. This loss of green cover is almost equivalent to the size of Switzerland per annum! Jakarta suffers from acute air pollution due to fast depleting forest cover. There is little fresh air to replace or replenish the poison emitted by millions of automobiles and countless industrial chimneys of Jakarta.

Air pollution is one of the biggest health hazards faced by Jakarta in the present time. The permissible level of TSP according to the WHO guidelines is 75 mg/ m3 whereas there are several parts in Jakarta where TSP level is at a high of 350mg/m3 . Each air polluting substance has a specific ill affect on human health.

Fig. 4. Major Air Pollutants and the Associated Health Hazards, ALU Freidberg.

Asthma attacks and bronchitis are the common diseases faced by the residents of Jakarta due to air contamination. In 1994, Air pollutant in Jakarta caused, among other illnesses, approximately 1,200 cases of premature mortality, 32 million cases of respiratory symptoms, and 464,000 cases of asthma attacks (Ostro). Respiratory Hospital Admissions (RHA) due to ambient sulphate and TSP levels has also been continually rising in Jakarta due to severe air pollution. In 1999, “The levels of the other pollutants were: carbon monoxide 71-111 ppm, lead 90 μg/m3, and maximum oxidants 0.159 ppm” (Honari). The total treatment cost of health problems associated with air pollutants was estimated to be approximately $500 million or approximately 0.02 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP in 1990. Shah observes, “Total TSP emissions in Jakarta are estimated at 96733 tons/year. Particulate matter of 10 micron or less (PM10) emissions total 41369 tons/year and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are estimated at 43031 tons/year.”

Most of the vehicles used in Jakarta still run on conventional carburetors that consume a lot of energy and give out plenty of toxic fumes. Majority of these motorcycles have two stroke engines that cannot combust fuel as efficiently as a four stroke engine would do. Most cars in Jakarta don’t have catalytic converters and the result is higher air pollutant emissions in the air. Now, the things may change with a blanket ban on lead fuel in Jakarta. This will help the new cars to come pre fitted with catalytic converters and MPFI engines. This would indeed bring down the emission of air pollutants.

Fig. 5. Emission of Pollutants in Jakarta in 1999. NKLD Propinsi DKI Jakarta. 2000

It seems that the government of Indonesia has woken up to the problem of air pollution in Jakarta. The fact that Jakarta is literally sitting on an environmental time bomb cannot be ignored any further. If something drastic and concrete is not done now, it would be perhaps too late to set the clock back. Indonesian government has introduced several environment friendly programs like ‘1 Million Trees Campaign’ and ‘1Million Parks Campaign” etc. These plans are designed to enhance the natural green cover in Jakarta to offset the harm done by severe air pollution. Unfortunately, the progress on these schemes has been pretty slow. The ‘Blue Sky Program’ aims at bringing down air pollution by imposing certain control over the vehicular and industrial emissions. It also envisages aggressive social campaigns to bring about environmental awareness.

Jakarta must also improve its public transportation system considerably to check air pollution. Buses are the chief mode of public transport in Jakarta. Poor bus service, improper traffic management, absence of dedicated bus tracks have resulted in public’s reliance on private vehicles. This means much larger number of vehicles on the road. A robust public transport system must be put in place to alleviate Jakarta from the quagmire of air pollution. The idea of a monorail in Jakarta is also a positive step in the right direction.

This nonpolluting public mode of transport will have two lines; the Green line will exclusively cater to the commercial or business centers and the blue to a general route. The monorail will also reduce air pollution in Jakarta by augmenting the public transport system. The government of Indonesia has come up with Agenda 21, as a part of its Bus Management improvement plan, “Transportation strategies should reduce the need for motor vehicles by favouring high occupancy of public transport and providing safe bicycle- and footpaths” (Gunadi). The frequency and the punctuality of the bus service should increase; the fares should be reasonable and the journey comfortable. This would surely take plenty of vehicular load off the roads of Jakarta, whereby reducing air pollution considerably.

The government must realize that pollution is anti economic growth in the long run. Katherine Bolt says, “health-related economic losses may have neutralized a significant part of the income growth that developing countries have managed to achieve.” Resosudarmo adds, “These illnesses cause urban households to spend money on medical care and also reduce the effectiveness of labour in urban production activities.” The Inspection and Maintenance Program (I&M) largely depends upon private players and contractors. Without proper surveillance by the law enforcement agencies, this program can very well fail to achieve its desired goal. Jakarta needs an all embracive environment plan that achieves its goal without seriously hampering the commercial progress of a developing country like Indonesia.

The World Bank emphasizes that the Indonesian government should, “give highest priority to encouraging the adoption of "clean technology", and especially waste minimization initiatives, to reduce pollution loads at the least cost while simultaneously enhancing industrial efficiency and competitiveness.” Indonesia will have to carefully weigh the economic cost of air pollution against the financial earnings achieved through a polluting industry. It is simple economics. Indonesia should promote the industry that is technologically sound and environment friendly with incentives and awards. At the same time, it should shut down the polluting industry that is counter-productive. This will indeed require some rare grit and sincerity of purpose on part of the Indonesian government.

Works Cited

Bolt, Katherine. “Minute Particles, Major Problems: New Policies Show Promise for Saving Millions of Lives by Clearing the Air in the Developing World”. Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy. Volume: 16. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2001.

Gunadi, P. “Urban Management: Improving the System of Bus Management for Jakarta”.

Honari, Morteza. Health Ecology: Health, Culture, and Human-Environment Interaction. London: Routledge. 1999.

Indonesia: Environment and Development. New York: World Bank. 1994.

Jakarta. ‘World guide’. Lonely Planet. 9 May 2007. <>

Copyright: Academic


Five Towns Air Conditioning & Vent Cleaning said...

Not only in Jakarta...if there is a research then you would identify that the increase in population and more so increase in the rapid consumption of cars and technology is a cause for pollution.

Anonymous said...

"About 70 % of Jakarta air is contaminated by automobile pollutants and the rest of 30% air pollution comes from dangerous industrial emissions."

From where has this statistical information been retrieved?

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