Jakarta's Air Quality Is 'healthy': Environment Minister Amid Backlash Over Pollution

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JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said Thursday (Jul 11) that Jakarta’s air quality is still “good or healthy” based on national standards, as residents piled pressure on the government to curb pollution.

She rejected the assessment of Air Visual - an independent online air quality index (AQI) monitor - which pegged Jakarta at the "very unhealthy" level of 231 on Jun 25, nearly five times the level recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“Based on observation of Jakarta’s air, the air quality is still good or healthy if compared with national air quality standards,” she said in her speech at the opening of Environment and Forestry Week 2019, according to local media reports.

Activists and scientists have blamed Jakarta’s smog on a cocktail of vehicle fumes, smoke and emissions from coal-fired power plants surrounding the capital, one of the most congested cities in the world with a population of 10 million people.

Last month, Air Visual reported that Jakarta’s air pollution was worse than cities like New Delhi and Beijing, sparking a storm of social media criticism.

Boys use their smartphones as smog covers the capital city of Jakarta
Boys using their smartphones as smog covers the capital city of Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jul 4, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan) 

Following that, a group of 31 Jakarta residents filed a lawsuit last Thursday against President Joko Widodo, Ms Siti Nurbaya’s ministry, the health ministry, and Jakarta's governor over the poor air quality.

The plaintiffs are looking for a court order compelling the government to acknowledge and tackle the problem.

No court date has yet been set.

READ: Jakarta residents sue Indonesia government over air pollution 

In a statement later on Thursday, Ms Siti Nurbaya said even when compared to the World Health Organization standards, Jakarta’s air quality is still in the “moderate category”. 

“Based on combined data from the environment and forestry ministry and Jakarta government’s air quality monitoring stations, the air quality of Jakarta is in the moderate category, or unhealthy to sensitive groups like babies and the elderly,” she said.

The government uses a different methodology from Air Visual’s, she added.

In dismissing Air Visual’s assessments, Ms Siti Nurbaya denied that air pollution in Jakarta, which regularly ranked among Air Visual’s top 10 most polluted cities in the world, was getting worse.

READ: Jakarta’s air quality kills its residents – and it’s getting worse, a commentary

“If you compare to the 2015 and 2016 data, Jakarta’s air quality is not getting better or worse, but remained relatively constant,” she said.

The minister said that the government is making efforts to reduce Jakarta’s air pollution.

“Efforts to reduce vehicle emissions have been done by gradually switching to more environment-friendly fuels, getting people to switch from personal to public transportation, tightening regulation on emission standards as well as adding and expanding more green public spaces,” she said.