Jakarta – Jakarta is planning to extend remote working for public employees and ramp up water misting from tall buildings as the city's air quality has not improved despite various efforts to curb air pollution.
To reduce the number of vehicles in the city and improve the air quality, the Jakarta administration ordered half of its public employees to work from home last month as part of an effort that was planned to continue until Oct. 21.
Jakarta acting governor Heru Budi Hartono said authorities were now considering extending the remote working system for city public officials at least until the rainy season starts, which is predicted by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to be in November.
"We plan to implement remote working until the start of the rainy season," he said on Sunday as reported by Kompas.com, "However, we will evaluate the effectiveness of the remote working system [to curb air pollution] first, perhaps sometime this month, before we extend it."
The capital employs around 200,000 people, 60,000 of whom are civil servants.
Heru said authorities would also set up water mist generators, manufactured by the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), in all city-owned buildings, to help clean the air. He said, however, that it would take some time to do so because BRIN could not mass produce the generators.
Heru stated that he hoped the owners of high-rise buildings in the capital would also install water mist generators.
The government has previously blamed the deteriorating air quality in the nation's capital largely on the prolonged dry season, which has been exacerbated by the impacts of vehicle and industrial emissions.
Authorities have tried to modify the weather through cloud seeding, but these efforts were relatively unsuccessful because of a lack of clouds in Jakarta.
As an alternative, they have been spraying mist from some tall buildings and major roads in the city, with officials stating that mist spraying is a micro scale alternative to the weather modification approach, and that limited trials showed that it could significantly lower air pollution in the surrounding area.
The government has been scrambling to address worsening air pollution in Greater Jakarta in recent weeks, after the city consistently ranked among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world.
Last month, the Environment and Forestry Ministry set up a task force to tackle the worsening air pollution in the Greater Jakarta area.
The team has tried various measures to tackle the smog that has been blanketing the city, from conducting vehicle emissions tests to clamping down on businesses that contribute to the air pollution.
The government has also decided to shut down several power stations in the Suralaya coal-fired power plant in Cilegon, Banten.
Despite these measures, however, Jakarta's air quality has hardly improved. On Monday morning, Swiss air quality technology company IQAir recorded an air quality index of 161 in Jakarta, placing it in the "unhealthy" category.
The figure was eight points higher than on Aug. 14, when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo convened a meeting with several ministers and regional leaders to discuss short and long-term strategies to curb pollution in the capital.
The Center for Research and Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said in a recent statement that work from home and other gimmicks cannot clear Jakarta's air.
"The air pollution is a mix of local emissions taking place within the city, and long-range transportation of pollutants from neighboring provinces. This means that Jakarta needs a regional action plan tackling all major emitting sectors, not something only targeted at a very small part of the problem," CREA said.
The worsening air quality in the capital city has led to a significant increase in breathing problems among Jakartans, according to the Health Ministry.
In the past week alone, the ministry recorded 90,546 cases of upper respiratory tract infections in Greater Jakarta.
Daily cases spiked from 4,700 cases a day on Sept. 3 to around 16,000 cases a day just two days later, director of contagious disease prevention and control Imran Pambudi said.
"Fifty-five percent of cases of upper respiratory tract infection are from people in the productive ages because they spend more time outside," Imam said as reported by Kompas.id. "The rising trend of upper respiratory tract infection appears to follow the increase in PM 2.5 pollutants in the air."
PM2.5 is fine particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which can penetrate respiratory tracts and cause long-term health problems.
The CREA estimated that air pollution was responsible for an estimated 2,500 premature deaths per year in Greater Jakarta, while also causing problems with the immune and respiratory systems as well as cardiovascular disease. (nal)