Jakarta Residents Win Court Case; President Must Address Air Pollution

Car, scooter, bus, and pedestrian traffic during the Jakarta rush hour commute.

Image: Flickr, UN Women Gallery

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

An Indonesian district court ruled yesterday that Indonesian President Joko Widodo has neglected Jakarta’s residents right to clean air. In a unanimous ruling in favor of the 32 residents who brought the case, the Central Jakarta District Court ordered Widodo, and six other top officials deemed negligent, to improve air quality in the island nation’s capital. The air pollution primarily comes from heavy traffic, factories, and unfiltered coal-fired power plants. 


“I want my child to be able to live a healthier life, get clean and healthy air,” one plaintiff, Khalisah Khalid, told BBC Indonesian. “I’m sure all parents, all mothers, want their children to be able to grow and develop… in a clean and healthy environment.”


Why This Matters: Air quality is directly linked to people’s health and life span. The air pollution in Jakarta is six times above the World Health Organization’s guidelines and estimated to shorten residents’ life expectancy by 5.5 years. Air pollution has also been linked to an increase in cases of COVID-19 and premature births.


Because the plaintiffs framed their demands around monitoring and sanctions, the court instructed Widodo to improve the national air quality standard, and provincial governments must test air quality and make the data public. If acted upon, the ruling could lead to cleaner air, improving the health and day-to-day lives of people living in Jakarta. 


The Grass is Always Greener

In part motivated by Jakarta’s air pollution, President Widodo is planning to move Indonesia’s capital city to East Kalimantan, a less populated province on a different island known for its diverse range of wildlife and lush rainforests. Earlier this week, the BBC reports that “local media quoted him as saying that officials would benefit from the fresh air and the green environment there.”


The planned move has caused concern that the new capital will lead to deforestation, increased mining for construction materials, and harm to the local indigenous people, collectively known as the Dayaks.


The Dayaks have been persistent victims of environmental degradation,” Joshua Castellino of the Minority Rights Group International told news agency Reuters. “The abandonment of Jakarta due to pollution and overcrowding is hardly an endorsement for a move into someone else’s backyard where the same will likely occur.

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