Five years ago, a scan of Istu Prayogi’s lungs showed the kind of damage that comes from smoking cigarettes. But in his case, he had never smoked. Instead, he spent hours a day in traffic in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and one of the world’s most polluted cities.
A computer science teacher, Mr. Istu began wearing a face mask, as his doctor recommended, but that was only a short-term solution. So he joined a rare citizen lawsuit against the government seeking to force Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, and other government officials to address the city’s pervasive pollution.
“For me personally, it’s very urgent,” he said, “because everyone needs air and everyone needs health.”
A three-judge panel is expected to rule as early as this week whether the president, three of his cabinet ministers and three provincial governors have been negligent by failing to curb the city’s air pollution.
prone to flooding.
The environmentalists who brought the suit say that many of the worst sources of pollution are outside Jakarta’s city limits and that presidential leadership and regional efforts are essential to address the problem.
A month after the lawsuit was filed, President Joko proposed moving the capital to a new city to be built on the island of Borneo, leaving Jakarta’s pollution problems behind.
A study released last week by the British consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft found that Jakarta was the city most at risk from environmental factors out of the 576 cities analyzed. The study noted that Jakarta is “plagued with dire air pollution” and faces threats from seismic activity and flooding.
One of the 32 plaintiffs in the suit is Yuyun Ismawati, a co-founder of the environmental group, Nexus3 Foundation, and a recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She points out that Indonesia’s air pollution standards are much looser than the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. But even these standards are not adequately enforced, she said, and as a result, many people suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Children are especially vulnerable to ailments caused by pollution because their bodies are still developing, she said. “I am worried about the future of young people in Indonesia.”