A solar farm powers a small community in Sikka District, relatively untouched by air pollution. While Jakarta ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Clean air is not a luxury for Louisa and Laila (not their real names), two trans women who live on Parumaan Island (read: Permaan), one of the islands in the North Sea of Sikka Regency, Maumere City, Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). The only transportation access to the island is by boat with a capacity of around five gross tonnages. 

When the Konde team arrived, some residents living on the outermost island of Maumere observed with keen eyes. Along the island, houses on stilts are made of wood. The ground floor is open to relaxing and chatting with family and neighbors. Some residents also use the ground floor for firewood cooking. Meanwhile, the upper floor is reserved for the living room and bedroom. 

On the island, there are few motorbikes. The number is less than ten. Most residents use motorized boats of around 2-3 gross tonnage parked at the only small pier. The ship’s fuel is diesel. The boat is a vehicle for fishing in the Maumere Sea and a mode of transportation for buying and selling basic needs. 

According to Parumaan Village records, the island stretches for 12 kilometers. The number of residents is around 400 households (KK). 

The islands’ wooden house structures and minimal vehicles keep Parumaan’s air clean. Not only because there is hardly any vehicle activity but because the residents use solar power from a nearby plant (PLTS). 

PLTS in Parumaan has been operating since 2019 and was developed by PLN and PT Tritama Mitra Lestari. This solar power plant (PLTS) has a capacity of 420kWp, serving 458 customers.

According to Dahil Baco (57), a village official from Parumaan, the PLTS has since provided 24-hour power to the community. They installed satellite TV too. A few villagers also sell iced tea and fruit iced drinks. 

“Today, people have the opportunity to start their own business. Cook rice in a magic jar. Many buy refrigerators to sell ice,” Baco said.

This impact was also directly felt by Louisa and Laila, who claimed that the Parumaan PLTS had helped them increase their income. They do not work as fishermen, but run a grocery store and sell ice cubes. When Konde visited, Louisa and Laila were not home. They were out looking for merchandise only sold in Maumere City. 

Louisa’s kiosk is not too substantial, only a 3×4 meter plot in front of her stilt house. Laila also owns a similar shop. The shop provides a variety of foods and staples for residents.

“Yes, I am grateful to open a kiosk business,” said Laila when contacted by Konde on December 26, 2022. 

East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province is one of a few Indonesian regions with great solar energy potential. According to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, NTT has a solar energy potential of 369.5-gigawatt peak (GWp), while Riau has 290.41 GWp, and South Sumatra with 285.18 GWp.

The total reaches 3,294.36 GWp of solar energy potential, spread throughout the country.

Apart from Parumaan, other islands in the Sikka district also rely on solar-powered electricity. Among others, Kojadoi Island, Besar Island, Pemana Island, and Palue Island. As quoted from the Sikka administration website, district head Francis Roberto Diogo promised to install the next PLTS on Sukun Island, an outer island to the north of the district. 

However, running a solar power plant in Parumaan is not without its challenges. The plant operator and technical steward, Sudarman, said maintaining the plant is difficult. For example, operators must always monitor photovoltaic (PV) — solar panels — and battery quality. The panels must be thoroughly cleaned with clean water.

While the lack of clean water in Parumaan means solar panel maintenance uses rainwater.

“We have to get clean water from the opposite island. Even the rainwater we use is supplied from Kojadoi Island,” said Sudarman.

In addition to maintenance, another concern is that air quality monitoring equipment in NTT, located in Kupang City, is experiencing problems and hasn’t been repaired.

According to Otha Thallo, head of the Frans Seda-Maumere Airport meteorological station in eastern Indonesia, including NTT, there are not many air quality monitoring tools because procurement is very dependent on administration priorities.

“Maybe because pollution is relatively low in NTT, here [Maumere] there are also no factories, vehicle pollution is not that much,” Thallo said.


In contrast, Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta is still struggling with air pollution problems. World Air Quality1]2]3]4] data for the last four years show that air pollution in Jakarta is one of the highest in the world. Jakarta consistently occupies the world’s top ten worst-polluted cities and the Southeast Asian region. 

Every year, the average concentration of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in Jakarta is four to five times higher than the WHO Air Quality Guidelines standard.

The number of deaths associated with PM2.5 in Jakarta is the highest nationally, at around 36 people per 100,000 people. A study by Budi Haryanto et al. estimates in 2010 there were 5.5 million cases of air pollution-related illnesses, or nearly 11 cases per minute, in Jakarta, resulting in health costs of up to Rp38 trillion or the equivalent of 60 trillion in 2020. 

A study by Vital Strategies and the Bandung Institute of Technology from October 2018-September 2019 identified the primary sources of Jakarta air pollution, namely vehicle exhaust fumes, burning coal for power plants (PLTU), open burning, construction, road dust, and suspended soil particles. 

In addition, the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) research in 2020 found strong indications of cross-border pollution from Banten and West Java Provinces, which is the main contributor to air pollution in Jakarta. 

Around the capital city, at least 136 registered industrial facilities (including power plants) operate in high-emission sectors in Jakarta and are located within a 100 km radius of Jakarta’s administrative boundaries. 16 are located in DKI Jakarta, 62 in West Java, 56 in Banten, 1 in Central Java, and 1 in South Sumatra.

Quoted from research, satellite imagery monitoring shows that the Suralaya power plant in Banten is operating and producing emissions as usual during Covid restrictions. The wind carried the Suralaya power plant pollution to Jakarta. This may have contributed to the continued high PM2.5 in Jakarta, despite the significant reduction in local traffic and urban activity. 

“The operation of these high-emission sectors produces air pollution and has a significant impact on Jakarta’s air quality,” said Erika Uusivuori, a CREA researcher. 

The research also revealed that meteorological factors such as wind trajectories affect the spread of pollutants such as NO, SO2, and PM2.5. In the dry months of May-October, sources from coal-fired power plants and industrial plants east of Jakarta (from Bekasi, Karawang, Purwakarta to Bandung) significantly impact air quality.

In the wet months (December-March), sources in the west–particularly the Suralaya power plant in Banten–are a more prominent contributor to pollution. 

“All of these factors affect Jakarta’s airspace and air pollution as a whole,” she said. 

Frustrated by the polluted air, on July 4, 2019, dozens of Jakarta residents, together with attorneys for the Jakarta Capital Movement Advocacy Team (Universal Coalition Clean Air Initiative), filed a civil lawsuit for Jakarta’s poor air quality with the Central Jakarta District Court. They sued President Joko Widodo, the Minister of Environment and Forestry, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Governor of Jakarta, the Governor of West Java, and the Governor of Banten. 

Two years later, in September 2021, the court partially granted the lawsuit. President Joko Widodo and members of his cabinet, and three governors were found guilty of failing to tackle Jakarta’s air pollution. The court ordered President Joko Widodo to set national ambient air quality standards. 

While members of his cabinet: The Minister of Environment was ordered to supervise governors in the cross-border emissions inventory of the three provinces, the Minister of Home Affairs must supervise and guide the performance of the Jakarta governor in controlling air pollution, and the Minister of Health to calculate the reduction of health impacts due to air pollution in the capital.

The Jakarta administration accepted the decision without appeal. Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo and members of his cabinet appealed but lost at that level of appeal. 

Head of the Environmental Impact Management of the Jakarta environment office, Yusiono A. Supalal, explained that after losing in court, the Jakarta administration decided not to appeal. “The Jakarta administration has chosen to speed up efforts to control air pollution,” he answered when asked by Konde during a public discussion titled “Guarding the Jakarta Clean Air Governor Regulation,” in25 January 2023. 

He explained that the Jakarta administration issued Governor Instruction No. 66 of 2019 concerning air quality control. The instruction contains seven action plans to control air pollution including monitoring emissions from immovable sources, motorized vehicle tests, and other emission sources. 

“Until now, we are still trying. Including air quality monitoring, yes, through the collaboration, we finally got an additional 14 air quality monitoring devices. We will publish the data results on the DLH (environment office) website,” he added.

Supalal explained that the Jakarta administration has also developed a Jakarta Air Pollution Control Strategy for 2023-2030. The three major strategies that will be implemented are improving air pollution control management, reducing air pollutant emissions from mobile sources, and reducing air pollutant emissions from immovable sources. 

On the other hand, President Joko Widodo and Minister of Environment and Forestry (LHK) Siti Nurbaya Bakar recently filed a court of cassation lawsuit against the citizen’s complaint. 

“We have done everything requested by the plaintiff, but what has been done has not been considered in the decision. That’s why we are taking legal steps,” replied Sigit Reliantoro, Director General of Pollution Control and Environmental Damage of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, in a letter to Konde, Monday (30/1/2023). 

A move that the civil society coalition believes reflects the government’s reluctance to prioritise public health.

“We from the coalition see that President Jokowi and Mrs. Siti Nurbaya Bakar are very serious in fighting their own citizens,” said Jihan Fauziah Hamdi, attorney for the Advocacy Team for the Capital City Movement when contacted by Konde by telephone on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. 

Hamdi says, after being convicted, the government should immediately focus on improving and carrying out its responsibilities in protecting the environment, in this case, addressing air pollution in the capital. She regrets the government’s decision and will respond immediately.

“We have a time limit of 14 calendar days to respond through a counter-appeal memorandum of the arguments submitted by the President and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry through the cassation memorandum document,” she added. 

In addition, the government revised Government Regulation 41 of 1999 concerning Air Pollution Control, a regulation that regulates air quality standards. It revoked it by issuing the latest regulation, Government Regulation Number 22/2021, concerning Environmental Protection and Management. In this latest regulation, the government does not reduce the annual ambient PM2.5 limit by 15 µg/m3. This limit is three times higher than the current WHO standard of 5µg/m3. 

“Before adopting WHO guideline values as standards, the government must consider local conditions that pertain to each country,” explained Reliantoro. 

Vital Strategies researcher Ginanjar Syuhada, the government should set a safe air quality limit. However, he explains, the WHO standard of 5ug/m3 is not immediate but implemented gradually in accordance with its interim target. WHO says Indonesia’s annual PM2.5 ambient limit is in line with the IT-3 (interim target 3) level.

“Ideally, Indonesia should set a minimum limit as low as possible to protect society from air pollution’s negative impacts. It is important that this reduction takes into account a variety of factors that occur in the field, based upon the local context,” he replied. 

This story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network through the Clean Air Catalyst program, which is a flagship program launched by the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by a global partnership of organizations including the World Resources Institute and Environmental Defense Fund and Internews.
This story was first published in Bahasa Indonesia by Konde on February 3, 2023.
About the writer

Marina Nasution

Marina Nasution started her journalism career in 2015 at DAAI TV Medan. In 2019, she migrated to Jakarta and continued her work as a reporter at Konde.co. Throughout her career, Marina has often raised...

Gloria Fransisca

Gloria Fransisca Katharina Lawi worked as a freelancer for Intisari Online (2013), an intern for Kontan Daily (2014), and a journalist for Bisnis Indonesia (2015-2021). The winner of the 2016 Perekonomian...

Abdus Somad

Abdus Somad, born in Karangasem, Bali, 27 years ago. He plunged into journalism by joining Axis Student Press at Ahmad Dahlan University, Yogyakarta. After graduating from college in 2018, he worked as...

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