Jakarta residents await landmark ruling on the right to clean air | Environmental News

Medan, Indonesia – Teacher Istu Prayogi lived in Jakarta, the crowded capital of Indonesia in the 1990s, and has been struggling with a runny nose, headache and shortness of breath.

It turns out that the problems are all around him, and he is not the only one who suffers.

Istu, a teacher at the Nusantara Jaya School of Tourism, told Al Jazeera: “I was diagnosed by a lung disease expert and my lungs had spots caused by air pollution.”

“The government did not notice the poor air quality in Indonesia.”

Now Istu, who moved to the satellite city of Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta, is one of the 32 plaintiffs. The landmark “citizen litigation” Its purpose is to hold the government accountable for failing to realize the right of Indonesian citizens to obtain clean air.

According to the World Air Quality Index, the Central District Court of Jakarta will issue a verdict on the case on June 10. Prior to this, the city has had a legal dispute over the culprit for its dirty air for nearly two years. The city is often listed as the world’s most important culprit. The most polluted city. .

Even during the restrictions imposed last year to curb the spread of COVID-19, Jakarta’s streets were crowded and air pollution exceeded WHO and national guidelines [File: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

In 2019, a study conducted by Vital Strategies and Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT) found that Indonesia had the highest number of premature deaths related to air pollution in Southeast Asia. The report also found that in Jakarta, “the level of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), the most dangerous pollutant to health, is usually four to five times higher than the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.”

As part of a citizen’s litigation—a legal method traditionally used by private citizens to file a lawsuit to enforce regulations and strategies often used in environmental law cases—the plaintiff does not demand financial compensation, but hopes to legally sue the public for air pollution problems in Jakarta Recognition and forced the government to take action.

The lawsuit includes the President of Indonesia, the Minister of Environment and Forestry, the Minister of Interior, the Governor of Jakarta, and the governors of Banten and West Java provinces.

The complaint stated that the plaintiff had requested the presiding collegiate panel to determine that the defendant was negligent in fulfilling the citizens’ right to a healthy living environment and ordered it to raise the national air quality standards.

“We need a stronger legal framework and more advanced laws and sanctions to deal with air pollution,” Greenpeace Indonesia Country Director Leonard Simanjuntak (Leonard Simanjuntak) told Al Jazeera that he is also in litigation. Ordinary citizens.

Human rights issues

More than 10 million people live in Jakarta, but if you include the population of Jakarta’s five satellite cities and surrounding areas (where thousands of industrial zones and manufacturing centers are located), this number will exceed 30 million.

“This case is very important because we already know that breathing clean air is our right as human beings,” Greenpeace Indonesia’s climate and energy activist Bondan Andrianu told Al Jazeera.

“Air pollution on the scale of today 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 has clear and legal rights. The obligation to enforce to respect, protect and realize human rights [of the citizens]. “

In September 2017, the Ministry of Health in Jakarta, Indonesia asked the government to take action to reduce air pollution in Jakarta. Greenpeace activists performed in protests [File: Tatan Syuflana/AP Photo]

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, outdoor air pollution (ambient air pollution) was estimated to cause premature deaths of 4.2 million people worldwide, 91% of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with the largest number of deaths. Such deaths occurred in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions of the World Health Organization.

WHO’s annual ambient air quality standard is 10 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter of air, while Indonesia’s national standard is 15 micrograms.

But Bondin said that Greenpeace has received official data on fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5) from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) starting in 2020. There was a drop in the month – showing 28.??6 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“If we compare our national ambient air quality standards with the World Health Organization standards, we are still far behind. Even during the pandemic, Jakarta’s annual PM 2.5 data is higher than the national ambient air quality standards,” he said.

“My kids rarely go out to play”

Elisa Sutanudjaja, director of the Rujak Urban Research Center 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 concerns about the impact of air pollution have increased over time.

“As the parents of a 10-year-old girl, we almost always use public transportation or walk in Jakarta,” she told Al Jakarta. “But we found that due to pollution, especially pollution caused by motor vehicle exhaust, we can’t enjoy traveling. Now, my children rarely go out to play.”

According to the 2019 report of Vital Strategies and Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT), BIT air quality experts sampled samples from three locations near Jakarta during the rainy and dry seasons. The main source of pollution in the city comes from vehicles and secondary aerosols such as ammonium nitrate. And ammonium sulfate, construction activities, open burning of biomass and other fuels, paving road dust, resuspended soil particles, sea salt and coal burning.

“Indonesia has very loose regulation of coal-fired power plants and their emissions,” said Leonard of Greenpeace. “The suburbs of Jakarta are full of coal-fired power plants. If we use mathematical models, of course emissions will be carried to the city.”

Since the lawsuit started two years ago, air quality has not improved.This photo shows the view of Jakarta last month, with its high-rise offices and apartments shrouded in smoke [Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

In addition to tightening the regulation of coal emissions, the plaintiff in the lawsuit also wants the government to reconsider its entire urban planning strategy in the city.

“Although private cars are one of the biggest sources of air pollution, the central government, through the Ministry of Public Works, continues to insist on building toll roads,” Elisa said. “I hope that through this lawsuit, a strategy can be formulated to change this unsustainable development model and mobility policy.”

“As long as the development model is still car-centric, there will be no major improvements.”

As far as they are concerned, the defendants rejected their suggestion that they are responsible for the harmful air in Jakarta.

“The people who filed the lawsuit also contributed to the decline in air quality,” Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who was listed as Defendant V in the citizenship lawsuit, told the media in 2019.

“Unless everyone rides a bicycle, it’s different. Air quality is not only caused by one or two occupations, but by all of us, including those who file civil lawsuits.”

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