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The ongoing struggle to reduce air pollution

  • November 20, 2021
    The ongoing struggle to reduce air pollution in Jakarta and why the problem has persisted

    It has been months since Andy Rahman last rode his bicycle on the streets of Jakarta, a hobby he picked up last year when non-essential workers like himself were told to work from home to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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    “After about 30 minutes, my eyes were burning, my throat hurt and I began to cough,” the 47-year-old marketing manager told CNA.

    The coughing would persist even after he got home. It would only go away after he remained indoors for hours, he said.

    Rahman noticed that whenever he went cycling, the air would smell like there was something burning. Visibility was sometimes so low that tall skyscrapers appeared as mere silhouettes against a greyish sky.

    This led him to suspect that his coughing had to do with the worsening air quality.

    According to air quality monitoring tools, the city of 11 million people consistently ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

    Data from the Jakarta Health Agency shows that in 2019, before the pandemic began, the city only had two days when the air quality was deemed “healthy”. The rest of the year, the city was blanketed with toxic fumes and fine dust particles from vehicles, factories and coal-fired power plants surrounding the capital.

    In 2020, despite the introduction of various mobility restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, the number of healthy days only grew to 29. Since then – as activity restrictions were lifted – the air quality has gradually returned to the way it was before the pandemic.

    At the suggestion of his wife, Rahman stopped cycling outdoors, opting to exercise at home instead. “And it worked. The coughing stopped,” he said, adding that a few of his cycling buddies had also experienced the same health problems.
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