Jakartans Sue The Government Over Poor Air Quality

With Jakarta consistently topping the list of cities with the worst air pollution, a group of fathers, NGOs, and online motorcycle taxi drivers are taking matters into their own hands.
translated by Jade Poa
air pollution jakarta
Air pollution seen from Bung Karno Stadium, Central Jakarta. Photo: Beawiharta/Reuters

The residents of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, have had it with their city’s air quality problem. Last month, Jakartans, backed by various NGOs, began preparing a lawsuit against the central and regional governments for failing to address the city’s skyrocketing levels of air pollution. The lawsuit was filed last week at the Central Jakarta District Court.

Starting April this year, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) set up posts where residents can file pollution complaints. The foundation planned to sue President Joko Widodo, three ministries, and three regional governments, including Jakarta’s. The lawsuit, lawyer Ayu Eza Tiara said, was filed on June 18, but had to be pushed back to July due to administrative complexities and technical issues. YLBHI is representing 57 citizens and NGOs filing the lawsuit.


“We filed this as a citizen lawsuit (CLS),” Ayu told VICE, adding that they were delayed by “because we have so many plaintiffs… some of them didn’t meet certain requirements, so we had to exclude them.”

One of the plaintiffs is a father who lives in Tangerang, just outside Jakarta, who wishes to remain anonymous. He became involved in the lawsuit after seeing his child repeatedly suffer from sinus infections, even going as far as to purchase an air quality monitor so he could anticipate his child’s condition. A group of online motorcycle taxi drivers are also taking part in the lawsuit.

On June 25, Jakarta – which boasts an urban population of 10.5 million making it one of the most populated capital cities in the world – became the city with the world’s worst air quality, surpassing India and China. According to AirVisual, a site that maps out the world’s air pollution, Jakarta scored 240 out of 500 on the air quality index, indicating extremely polluted air.

Following Jakarta are Lahore, Pakistan; Hanoi, Vietnam; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Wuhan, China. Mumbai, India, a city that consistently makes the top five cities with the worst air pollution, moved down to sixth place. In contrast, London and San Francisco scored only 12 and 26 respectively on the air quality index on the same day. At the time of writing, Jakarta’s air pollution is at 139.

Additionally, a University of Indonesia survey showed that pollution causes breathing problems in a whopping 60 percent of Jakartans, among other issues like coronary heart disease and pneumonia. The abysmal air quality has since sparked a social media campaign, with Jakartans uploading photos with the hashtag #PollutionPicSubmission.


Who is to blame for the decline in air quality?

Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who is also a defendant in this lawsuit, said the pollution is a shared problem, citing the 17 million vehicles throughout Jakarta as the main cause. This comes as no surprise, considering Jakarta is basically a giant parking lot, congested with millions of cars, motorcycles, buses, and trucks. Jakarta’s provincial government attributes 70 percent of Jakarta’s air pollution to cars.

Executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, Tubagus Soleh Ahmadi, doesn’t believe however, that the millions of vehicles in Jakarta are solely responsible. Despite government efforts to reduce private vehicle use and boost public transportation, there are still no laws regulating the industrial sector’s pollution.

“Industry and motorized vehicles are two factors. Attempting to limit just transportation isn’t enough,” Ahmadi stressed.

Is there a glimmer of hope for the ambitious plaintiffs?

Ayu is optimistic the lawsuit will be fruitful. She also hopes it will force the government to reevaluate its policy on pollution and take concrete steps to finally begin addressing air quality.

Her optimism has a legal basis. At the end of June, a French mother and her child won a case against the French government over air pollution. The mother sued for 160,000 Euros at the Montreuil Court in Western Paris after accusing the government of neglecting to address the poor quality that made them sick.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.