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Self Quarantine Illustration
Self Quarantine Illustration. (Source: Sarah Kilian/Unsplash)

The number of Covid-19 infections, which has spiked since mid-June 2021, prompted the government to finally take firm action by implementing the PPKM Darurat (Pemberlakuan Pembatasan Kegiatan Masyarakat Darurat/Emergency Community Activity Restriction in Indonesia) in Java and Bali. Starting on July 3, 2021, this rule is still in effect today.

The implementation of PPKM during the pandemic in a number of areas has impacted the quality of environment in Indonesia due to the limited activities carried out by people outside their home. PPKM provides an opportunity for the environment to restore air quality in Indonesia.

Generally, measuring air quality in an area requires pollution units per cubic meter of air. Good or bad air quality can be seen from the number of pollutants in the air and one of them is particulate matter (PM). PM is the result of incomplete combustion. PM is also quite dangerous: smaller size of PM will be more dangerous for our body, since its small size will be easier to enter the body without being filtered by our body’s filter. These tiny particles can even get into the smallest parts of our respiratory system.

PM consists of 3 parts, namely condensed organic material, soot particles, and fly ash (inorganic). The biggest part of PM is soot or unburnt carbon. Meanwhile, based on its size, PM is divided into 2 types, namely PM2.5 or pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) and PM10. According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), healthy air quality if it is in PM2.5 is still below 60 g/m3 and PM10 is below 150 g/m3.

In various cities in Indonesia, reduced population mobility is proven to improve air quality. In Pekanbaru, Rosita Rakhim and Wendel Jan Pattipeiloh conducted a study by analyzing the air quality in the city of Pekanbaru during the PSBB (Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar/Large-Scale Social Restrictions in Indonesia). The results showed that before the PSBB, the PM10 rate was 5-10 g/m3. After PSBB, Pekanbaru’s air quality rose to 5-10 g/m3.

In Jakarta, the BMKG (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika/Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency in Indonesia) reported a comparison of Jakarta’s air quality in March 2019 and March 2020, when the PM10 figure tends to decrease. In March 2019, the PM10 figure in Jakarta was 65 g/m3 at the beginning of the month and reached a peak of 85 g/m3 at the end of the month. Compared to the initial period of the pandemic in Indonesia in early March 2020, Jakarta’s PM10 figure immediately fell. The figure is only 30-70 g/m3.

PM10 and Lack of Urban Green Space

PM10 comes from burning coal or exhaust fumes from motor vehicles. Even though a number of power plants or factories are located in the outer ring of Jakarta, the smoke pollutes Jakarta’s skies so that according to the research of the KPBB (Jaringan Kerja Komite Penghapusan Bensin Bertimbal/Joint Committee for Leaded Gasoline Phase-out in Indonesia), there was no good time for exercise for Jakarta residents before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pollution is one of the biggest threats towards human’s health. According to WHO, 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. As many as 7 million people died from diseases related to cardiovascular disorders.

Jakarta’s air quality is decreasing due to emissions and pollution that have no absorbers, namely trees and city parks. According to the Policy of Green Open Space, emissions will be absorbed if a city has an area of ​​urban green space as much as 30% of its total area. The city of Jakarta, with an area of ​​66,000 hectares, only has 14.9% urban green space.

As a result, pollution soars into the air and comes back down with the oxygen inhaled by humans. When it is densely polluted, pollutants soar as high as 2-3 kilometers, then fall back down when the pollution density decreases due to a decrease in motor vehicle traffic. Usually this happens in the morning and evening. So the impact of PPKM on air quality is quite significant because it stops the source of pollution in many cities.

Opportunity to Rebuild

Health innovations and vaccines rollout will have a positive impact on the world community’s recovery from Covid-19. However, with the return of community and industrial mobility, there are concerns that air quality in many parts of the world will decline again.

The pause provided by the pandemic can be an opportunity for the government to build more sustainable cities after the pandemic. This opportunity has been used by various cities around the world. Paris, Milan, Brussels and London are committed to expand their bike paths to accommodate sustainable transport. In fact, France targets to become a carbon neutral country by 2050, and the UK targets 80% emission reductions by 2050.

This opportunity also belongs to Indonesia. As the government prepares to prepare sustainable cities, we can also implement sustainable consumption and production to welcome a healthier and greener post-pandemic life.

Written by: Yohanna Christiani

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