September 10, 2021

Air Pollution Cuts Indonesians’ Lives Short by More Than Two Years

Pollution shortens life expectancy by more than six years in the most polluted areas, Air Quality Life Index shows.

Since 2000, Indonesia’s air pollution has been roughly three to four times greater than the World Health Organization’s guideline. Today, 93 percent of the country’s 262 million people—four out of every five Indonesians—live in areas exceeding that guideline. And, their life expectancies are shorter because of it. Without swift policy action to reduce particulate air pollution to the WHO guideline, Indonesians will see their lives cut short by 2.5 years on average—making air pollution the greatest risk to human health in Indonesia. By comparison, first-hand cigarette smoke reduces life expectancy in Indonesia by about 1.9 years, while child and maternal malnutrition reduces life expectancy by one year. Without change, the total current Indonesia population will lose about 643 million life-years to particulate pollution.

“Air pollution is a significant problem in Indonesia, as it is throughout much of Southeast Asia and beyond,” says Ken Lee, the director of the AQLI. “It is important for people to recognize the pollution burden and the impact it is having on their lives in order to encourage tangible policy changes.”  

Some parts of Indonesia could see a far greater impact on life expectancy if air pollution levels persist without policy action. In Jakarta, a city that is home to more than 11 million people, the average resident will live 5.5 years less if the situation remains unchanged. The air quality in Bandung, the capital city of West Java, is even worse. If Bandung’s pollution levels are sustained, the average person would live 6.5 years less. In Kota Bogor, Indonesia’s most polluted city, the average person is expected to lose roughly 7 years of life expectancy.

Air pollution is a more recent problem on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. In fact, over the past two decades, particulate pollution in Sumatra has doubled, causing the impact of air pollution on life expectancy to rise drastically from 0.7 to 2.4 years. South Sumatra city-dwellers in Palembang will lose 4.5 years on average. Likewise, Kalimantan’s air quality has gone from meeting the WHO guideline in 1998 to exceeding it by nearly three times, resulting in 1.9 lost life years if current levels persist.

Outside of the city-state of Singapore, where residents stand to lose 3.8 years of life expectancy, Indonesia is the most polluted country in Southeast Asia and the fifth most polluted in the world behind India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. That said, air pollution is still a major concern in Southeast Asia’s metropolises such as Ho Chi Minh City, where residents could see their lives cut short by 2.4 years, and Bangkok, where residents could lose 1.5 years off their lives if pollution levels persist.

“As countries like Indonesia confront the dual challenges of growing the economy while protecting public health and the environment, the AQLI can help show the damage caused by pollution and justify strong policies to address it,” says Lee. “We’ve already seen how pollution policies can have a real impact on people’s lives.”

China, for example, has made tremendous progress reducing its pollution since declaring a “war against pollution,” with cities cutting particulate pollution by almost 30 percent—improving life expectancy by 1.4 years if the reductions persist. If Indonesia were to make the same reduction in pollution, its residents could live a year longer.