Everyday people in Jakarta have to face the consequences of inhaling polluted air, mostly caused by the cars, buses and motorbikes jamming the busy streets. Respiratory ailments are a particular problem for those spending most of their days on the roads, such as policeman and street-vendors.
Nita Roshita and Tobias Grote-Beverborg went out onto the streets of Jakarta to monitor the extent of this daily air-pollution. Their report is the second part of the series ‘Pollution in Megacities – The example of Jakarta’, a co-production of Radio68H and Deutsche Welle, the German International Radio Station:
The street vendors at Jakarta’s busiest bus terminal, Blok M, never feel healthy. Everyday they try to sell their goods to passengers and have to breathe the toxic fumes of the heavy diesel engines from the buses. The buses are continuously pulling into the terminal, cruising at low speed to let passengers off and on, and then quickly pulling out to disappear again onto the busy streets of Jakarta. Most of the vendors here already suffer from severe coughing and other respiratory problems.
Sunaryo, an officer of the M-Blok-police-station, has been given a protective mask to cover his mouth and nose. But he doesn’t like using it.
"I don’t use my mask often because I feel uncomfortable with it. Some people use it all the time. Some just use it every now and then. So far I have no complaints, as long as I take care of my physical fitness. I drink traditional herbal medicine and sometimes suffer minor illness due to my age. As long as I maintain this, pollution will not affect me."
The pollution in Jakarta consists mostly of substances like Sulphur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide and dust particles. Seventy per cent of the air-pollution is produced by traffic – private bikes and cars, taxis, buses and trucks.
According to Jakarta’s Regional Environment Management Agency –there were only 53 days with clean air in 2004 – leaving more than 300 days, way above pollution standard. However, according to the pollution standard index, 2004 was an improvement on 2003.
Kosasih Wirahadikusumah, Head of the Regional Environment Management Agency, explains:
"We count 1-50 days with no pollution as good days, 50-100 as moderate days; 100-150 as unhealthy and above 150 as dangerous for Jakarta citizens. We count the number of good and bad days for one year. In the last four years, there have been some improvements in the condition of the air. However, according to pollution standard index, the air in general was still unhealthy in the past five years. Though the number of good, un-polluted days seems to increase, we still experience unhealthy and dangerous pollution."
In the past, the biggest danger to humans came from lead, a dangerous toxic substance, which is part of the fuel powering cars and motorbikes.
Since 2001, only un-leaded gasoline has been sold in Jakarta. But there are still many other toxic substances emitted, such as carbon monoxide, which affects the blood’s ability to carry oxygen –causing headaches and nausea. Long-time exposure to high carbon monoxide levels can cause brain and lung damage, especially in young children and babies. Another dangerous gas is sulphur dioxide – a colourless gas which smells like burnt matches, and can trigger severe asthma attacks.
The emission of these dangerous pollutants can be significantly reduced by installing catalytic converters in cars and motorbikes, something the car industry has already been doing for the past few years. But still there are many Jakartans who remove the catalytic converters; because they believe it’ll boost the engine power – a myth spread by mechanics looking for new ways to increase business.
Ahmad Syafruddin from the Joint Committee for Lead Phase-Out in Indonesia – KPBB – is quite happy about the progress so far:
"We have a great chance to reduce pollutants by up to ninety per cent solely by eradicating gasoline with lead. This requires cars to be equipped with a catalytic converter. It is expensive, but affordable if done in stages. Actually, when un-leaded gasoline was introduced in 2001, the Ministry of Environment agreed with the Ministry of Industry to only produce cars with catalytic converters within the next two years. When at least new cars are quipped with catalytic converters, it would not be a burden to the consumers. The difficulty is to equip cars which are already on the street."
There are two and a half (2.5) million private cars registered in the city of Jakarta; plus more than two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand (250,000) taxis and buses, and almost four million motorbikes. This adds up to nearly seven million gasoline-powered engines daily polluting the city’s air. And the number of vehicles on Jakarta’s streets keeps rising: According to the data gathered by the Transport Industry, almost two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand private cars are sold each month.
Indonesia’s automotive industry is ready and willing to produce more environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient cars, equipped with catalytic converters – running on un-leaded gasoline and complying with the so-called EURO II low emission standard.
There are also plans to improve the public transport sector: Jakarta’s local government plans to build seven lanes, which can only be used by buses. It’s promised to improve the quality of public transport, and to campaign for the use of environmentally-friendly gasoline. According to an earlier evaluation, just one bus-lane could reduce the use of private transportation by almost fifteen per cent – not only because it’s cheaper, but also much faster and more convenient to sit in an air-conditioned bus – rather than being stuck in traffic for hours in a privately-owned car.
Andi Rahmah, is a member of Jakarta’s Transport Council – he’s convinced that people will prefer public transport once it’s more readily available:
"I think people will start to think twice about their decision to use their own vehicles as soon as there’s a hike in the gasoline prices. Jakarta’s administration allows licensing schemes for bus-lane operators…. Since there are currently only three districts of the city – Sudirman, Thamrin and Kota – within easy reach of buses operating on those lanes - people continue to use their private vehicles to travel to other parts of the city. From 2006 onwards we will start limiting access to other parts of the city (like the Golden Triangle of Gatot Subroto, Sahid and Menteng up to Kota) by opening toll roads in these areas."
2006 will also see the start of strict emission tests, which will become part of the registration-process for cars and motorbikes. This regulation also requires public and government-owned vehicles to run on liquid-gas instead of gasoline. These measures, along with a growing awareness that gasoline is not only getting more and more expensive but is also polluting the city’s air, could soon bring results in Jakarta. There would be cleaner air, less time spent in traffic jams - saving everyone both time and money.