Indonesia is today the world’s ninth most polluted country. Air pollution shortens the average Indonesian’s life expectancy by 2 years, relative to what it would have been if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was met. Some areas of Indonesia fare much worse than average, with air pollution shortening lives by more than 7 years in the most polluted region.
- 93 percent of Indonesia’s 268 million people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline.
- In the capital Jakarta, home to 11 million people in the city proper, particulate pollution levels are six times the WHO guideline. If this pollution persists, residents would lose 4.8 years of life expectancy relative to if the air quality complied with the WHO guideline.
- South Sumatra is the most polluted province of Indonesia, where particulate pollution is cutting the lives of nearly 8 million people by 5.1 years. The city of Palembang is the worst. Residents there see their lifespans cut short by 7.4 years.
- Other provinces on Sumatra and western Java also have high particulate pollution. Residents there see their life expectancy cut short by about 3.5 years in West Java and Banten.
- In the cities of Bogor, Bandung and Bekasi in West Java, and South Tangerang in Banten, residents would lose about 5 years of life expectancy relative to if the air quality complied with the WHO guideline.
Aside from vehicles, coal, and industrial plants, biomass burning is a source of intense seasonal air pollution for much of the region. On the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, forest and peatland fires, often set illegally to clear land for agricultural plantations, create annual haze events. Though fire intensity and hotspots vary across time, the recurrence of fires in these areas each year means that residents are exposed to a high long-term average pollution concentration. In the cities of Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan and Palembang in South Sumatra, and their surrounding areas, the 10-year average particulate concentration is about five times the WHO guideline. Life expectancy for the residents of these cities is 4 years lower than what it would be if the long-term average particulate matter exposure were instead at the WHO guideline. Moreover, the fires create transboundary pollution with especially significant repercussions in Indonesia’s neighboring downwind countries.
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The dual challenges of economic growth and environmental quality faced by Indonesia today are no different from those once confronted by other countries during periods of industrialization. Nor is this dynamic limited to the world’s wealthiest countries. China has made tremendous progress since declaring a “war against pollution” in 2014, with cities cutting particulate pollution by about 40 percent—improving life expectancy by 2 years if the reductions persist. India, having declared its own war against pollution in January 2019, has set an ambitious target to reduce pollution by 20-30 percent. If it achieves a 25 percent reduction in pollution nationwide, it has the potential to improve life expectancy by 2 years. Indonesia has the opportunity to experience the same progress. If Indonesia were to achieve the same reduction in pollution experienced by China, its residents could live 1.2 years longer; 0.7 years longer if it achieves India’s target.