Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Residents dream of clear blue sky and clean air

JAKARTA (JP): Most city residents may agree that it is rare to observe the beauty of a blue sky in the city and to breathe in clean air.

Just pass along a highway and take a look at the surrounding areas, where you will notice that the only visible views are the shadows of skyscrapers shrouded in smog.

Such limited visibility is dangerous for drivers on the city's toll roads as sometimes the traffic signs are not clearly legible from a distance when driving at high speed.

The executive director of the Pelangi Indonesia Foundation, which focuses on the issues of energy, transportation and climate changes, Dodo Sambodo said on Friday that the visibility in Jakarta was only between 100 meters and 200 meters -- far below the universal standard of between 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters.

"Drivers should now reduce their speed when using toll roads in Jakarta due to the low visibility. The recommended speed is only between 40 kilometers per hour and 60 kilometers per hour as at such a speed drivers can still keep control of their cars," Dodo said.

"In the rainy season, however, visibility could reach 500 meters."

Even worse, Jakartans rarely enjoy morning sunshine anymore, he said.

Dodo said the smog was mainly caused by vehicular emission. The foundation's research shows that between March and May this year there were 230,000 cars on the road for 11 hours every day in the city, consuming about 10 liters of gasoline each.

"So, for 11 hours the cars consumed about 2.3 million liters of gasoline, which contains polluting substances like small particles, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and natrium monoxide," he said.

Dodo said the rate of pollutants in the atmosphere of surrounding cities was higher than the tolerated limit of 150 parts per million (ppm). "While the rate in the capital can reach up to 300 ppm."

He also said that the high pollution rate would cause respiratory problems in people.

Dodo's claim was in line with data from the City Health Agency, which shows that the number of respiratory disease patients always tops the list of serious diseases.

This year's data has yet to be compiled, but the number of patients increases every year. In 1998, 872,407 people were treated for respiratory problems, compared with 784,354 in 1997.

Meanwhile, last year the figured reached 1,023,801 people.

"The figure was taken only from public health clinics (Puskesmas). So, the actual figure could be higher than that," said Jessy Widiastuti, the health agency's spokeswoman.

Data from Swisscontact international agency, which is working on a clean air project here, shows that every year losses cause by pollution-related illnesses reaches Rp 2 trillion (US$235.2 million).

Sri Hidayati, an activist from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said people could not rely on the implementation of regulations on the environment to solve air pollution.

"It's still too far away. We have never seen a vehicle owner punished, for instance, for exceeding the acceptable emission level," she said, adding that some regulations also lacked technical direction which causes difficulties in the implementation of regulations.

"Such shortcomings are seen, for instance, in the 1993 Ministry of Environment Decree on vehicular emission levels as it stipulates no real technical criteria," she said.

Sri said the condition was made worse by the fact that the city administration lacked environmental vision in its policies.

She said the administration preferred to construct more toll roads to solve traffic problems.

"Such a policy is not environmentally friendly as building more toll roads will increase the number of cars hitting the streets, and in the end the content of pollutants in the air.

"The administration should provide more mass transportation systems like trains, instead of constructing toll roads," Sri said.

Meanwhile, Dodo said the government should implement a policy which prohibited the use of diesel fuel.

"The Ministry of Mines and Energy had such policy about 15 years ago, but it was not implemented because of the high demand of modes of transportation at that time," he said. (ind)