JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesian capital Jakarta has become the world’s most polluted major city, according to air quality monitoring firm IQAir, topping global charts for days as authorities fail to grapple with a spike in toxic smog.
Air pollution is estimated to contribute to seven million premature deaths every year and is considered by the United Nations to be the single biggest environmental health risk.
The capital and its surroundings form a megalopolis of about 30 million people that has outpaced other heavily polluted cities including Riyadh, Doha and Lahore all week for its concentration of tiny particles known as PM2.5.
It has topped Swiss company IQAir’s ranking of pollution data.
Jakarta has regularly recorded “unhealthy” levels of PM2.5, which can penetrate airways to cause respiratory problems, many times the World Health Organization’s recommended levels.
President Joko Widodo told reporters on Monday he plans to tackle pollution levels by reducing “Jakarta’s burden” as the country prepares to move its capital to Nusantara on Borneo island next year. He also said a planned metro train network across Jakarta “must be finished” to reduce pollution.
Residents have complained that the pollution caused by industrial smog, traffic congestion and coal-powered plants was affecting their lives and health. “I have to wear a mask all the time. Both my body and my face are suffering,” Anggy Violita, a 32-year-old officer worker in Jakarta, told AFP. “Last week my entire family was sick for a week and the doctor told me I should stay indoors,” the mother-of-two added.
In 2021 a court ruled in favour of a lawsuit filed by activists and citizens against the government, ordering Widodo to clean up the city’s notorious air pollution and ruling he and other top officials had been negligent in protecting residents.
Indonesia has pledged to stop building new coal-fired power plants from 2023 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. But despite an outcry from activists, the government is expanding the enormous Suralaya coal plant on Java island, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia.