A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – The respite of bluer skies and slightly fresher air that Jakartans enjoyed during the city's large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) has given way to smog as activities resume in the capital. But air quality during PSBB, while it was generally better than other periods, was still not ideal.
Data compiled by Greenpeace Indonesia from ambient air sensors at the United States embassy buildings in Central and South Jakarta show that the capital did not have a single day of "good" air quality from the beginning of PSBB to June 4, when it began gradually easing restrictions.
"Good" air quality occurs when the air quality at a given location does not exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) for particulate matter 2.5, measured on a six-grade air quality scale.
Not a single day of healthy air was logged in the period between March 14 and April 9. Air quality was rated "moderate" for 19 days in Central Jakarta and five days in South Jakarta; "unhealthy for sensitive groups" for eight days in Central Jakarta and 17 days in South Jakarta; and "unhealthy" for five days in South Jakarta.
The period between April 10 and June 4 was also without healthy days. Central Jakarta reported moderate air quality for a total of 30 days and "unhealthy for sensitive groups" for 26 days. The South Jakarta sensor recorded three moderate days, 37 days that were unhealthy for sensitive groups and 14 days of unhealthy air quality.
After June 4, Jakarta rejoined the ranks of the world's most polluted cities, according to the World Air Quality Project's Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI collects data from national meteorology departments, including Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).
From June 5 to 16, Central Jakarta's air quality was "unhealthy for sensitive groups" for 10 days and "unhealthy" for two days, while South Jakarta logged four and eight days in each category, respectively.
Air quality in the capital has not improved significantly, largely because the "new normal" habits that the government is promoting put an emphasis on preventing the spread of COVID-19 rather than controlling emissions, said Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Bondan Andriyanu.
He urged the government to take corrective measures such as improving national air quality standards to be on par with WHO provisions and coordinating with neighboring provinces to control pollution spillover.
"The government must soon conduct routine emission checks and make inventories so it can figure out the source of emissions, monitor their movement through geographical space and add more sensors to present a more accurate picture of air quality in Jakarta," Bondan said.
The government has said that air quality has improved compared to the same period last year.
According to Environment and Forestry Ministry data taken from a weather station at Gelora Bung Karno in Central Jakarta, the period between Jan. 1 to June 8 saw a slight increase in air quality compared to the same period in 2019.
The yearly average particulate level for 2020 as of June 8 was 24.33 ug/m3, lower than the 2019 average of 28.57 ug/m3.
According to Government Regulation No. 41/1999, the threshold standard for yearly national particulate levels is 15 ug/m3 for PM 2.5, compared to the WHO's average of 10 ug/m3.
The Jakarta Environment Agency also recorded that the sixth, seventh and eighth weeks of PSBB showed improved air quality compared to the same period last year.
Jakarta's air quality between May 18 and 24 was 31.02 ug/m3, 27.88 percent lower than the previous year's level, while in the seventh week of PSBB it was 29.76 ug/m3, down 31.02 percent year-on-year (yoy). In the eighth week it was 32.31 ug/m3, down 24.88 percent yoy, according to data from the Bundaran Hotel Indonesia weather station.
"This is proof that when activities, including in the economy, were on hold, the overall environmental quality improved, including the air," said Jakarta Environment Agency head Andono Warih said at an online discussion earlier this month.
Reduced pollution levels were the result of the work-from-home policy and lower-than-normal traffic during Idul Fitri, he said. Limited public transportation also discouraged people from leaving their homes.
However, Ahmad Safrudin of the Committee for the Phasing Out of Leaded Fuel (KPBB) said the return of traffic congestion and its associated air pollution must be anticipated.
"Whether we want it or not, we have to be strict in anticipating people who use private vehicles because of [limited options for] public transport," he said.
With one of the worst air pollution problems in the world, Greater Jakarta is lacking in tough policies to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which contributes between 70 and 80 percent of all emissions, surveys show.Worldwide, air pollution causes around seven million premature deaths every year, according to the United Nations.
The most deadly forms of pollution come from burning fossil fuels, which is also the main driver of global warming.