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Indonesia among top contributors to global air pollution, facing potential lawsuit over air quality crisis

A recent AQLI report ranks Indonesia among six nations contributing the most to global air pollution. Together, these countries, which include China, India, and Bangladesh, account for 75% of worldwide air pollution impacts.

The study suggests Indonesian citizens could lose significant life years due to air pollution.

Responding, various civil groups in Indonesia plan a class action lawsuit against the government and industrial contributors for the ongoing air crisis and its health repercussions.

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INDONESIA – A recent report from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) has identified Indonesia as one of the six countries most responsible for global air pollution.

Simultaneously, various civil society groups are considering a representative class action lawsuit against the government due to the deteriorating air pollution crisis.

Indonesia, alongside China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, collectively accounts for 75% of the global air pollution burden due to high levels of air pollution and large populations.

The AQLI study, founded by Michael Greenstone and colleagues from the Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) at the University of Chicago, revealed that three-quarters of the impact of air pollution on global life expectancy originates from these six nations.

Citizens in these countries can lose between one to over six years of life due to the air they breathe.

The life expectancy calculations in the AQLI report stem from two studies – Chen et al. (2013) and Ebenstein et al. (2017) – conducted in China to determine the effects of air pollution on life expectancy.

The research found that exposure to fine airborne particles, or PM2.5, at a concentration of 10 µg/m³ could reduce life expectancy by up to 0.98 years.

Responding to the study’s conclusions, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, cautioned that the findings should undergo further expert examination before being definitively accepted. She emphasized that these results shouldn’t be taken as mere assumptions.

“It still needs to be further examined by experts regarding this study, to ensure it doesn’t merely remain an assumption,” Nadia said to BBC News Indonesia.

The report highlighted Bangladesh, the most polluted country in 2021, where citizens could lose up to 6.8 years of life due to PM2.5 air pollution exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

In contrast, the average lifespan reduction due to air pollution in the United States was 3.6 months. This stark discrepancy underscores the quality of air disparities between Western and other nations.

Even China, often lauded for its efforts against air pollution, has work to do, as its air pollution levels remain six times higher than WHO standards and could potentially decrease citizens’ lifespans by 2.5 years.

While the Indonesian government strives to address air pollution issues in Jakarta, plans for a lawsuit against the government have emerged. On Sunday (27 Aug), the Clean Air Forum of Indonesia (Forum Udara Bersih Indonesia), composed of several civil society groups, announced intentions to launch a class action lawsuit against industrial players and the government due to the worsening air pollution crisis.

“We have been facing an air pollution crisis for a long time, and it has been years. This has only been detected due to pressure from various parties.

Meanwhile, air pollution issues have harmed many,” stated Ahmad Safrudin, the Chairman of the Clean Air Forum of Indonesia, to BBC News Indonesia, on Monday (28 Aug).

The civil society alliance is currently gathering economic loss data, particularly related to healthcare costs borne by individuals affected by respiratory diseases caused by polluted air. The data will serve as strong evidence in court.

“Because of the impact of air pollution, they suffer from respiratory diseases like acute respiratory infection, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, nasopharyngeal cancer, and so on. We verify through medical records; these payment proofs will become strong evidence in court,” said the man known as Puput.

With the lawsuit expected to be filed within the next two weeks, approximately 50 individuals have already registered as victims of economic losses due to air pollution.

The case could set a significant precedent for environmental protection and hold parties accountable for the consequences of air pollution.

Based on a study by the Committee for the Elimination of Leaded Petrol (KPBB) in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in 2010, the economic losses incurred by residents for healthcare due to air pollution reached Rp38.5 trillion.

By 2016, the value of losses for healthcare had increased even further to Rp51.2 trillion. Puput explained that although their current focus is on addressing the air pollution issue in Jakarta, they also aim to accommodate residents living in areas outside Jakarta that are impacted.

“Our concern shouldn’t be biased towards protecting only Jakarta residents; the context is about safeguarding residents of Cikarang, Cikampek, Bekasi, and others from industrial air pollution,’ he expressed.

The impending class action lawsuit will be filed under the legal framework of Law No. 32 of 2009 concerning Environmental Protection and Management. The suit seeks compensation for economic losses resulting from environmental pollution.

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