Reporting Asean-To Jeani, it feels like all she did in 2022 was clean her home. The mother of four was changing her clothes and her family’s bedsheets two or more times a day. She washed dishes repeatedly, rinsed them multiple times. As for cooking, she did that as fast as possible to prevent the dust in her home from going into the food.

Jeani was not obsessing about cleanliness. She was trying to cope with the persistent coal dust that was coating her home, and that of her neighbours in a public housing complex in Marunda, North Jakarta.

She also kept the windows shut all day, and was drying the laundry inside bedrooms. She recalls forbidding her children from leaving home, even though their five-by-six metre space was already cramped for her, her husband and children.

“Last year, I took my kids to the emergency room almost every month,” said Jeani, who asked to be identified by her nickname. “They suffered from breathing problems and cough,” she added, her voice upset.

Jeani’s community has been struggling with poor air quality since 2019, due to the black, fine coal dust that comes from the loading and unloading of coal, used for coal-firing in the electricity and industrial sectors, at Marunda Port,  some 5 kilometres away. Coal supplies are typically ferried by sea.

“Even the wind was black because it carried dust from the port,” Jeani recalled, describing it as sharp-edged and rough to the touch.

The handling of coal and hosting of stockpiles at the Marunda logistics port sends flying bottom ash (FABA) – waste produced from the burning of coal – into the air. Coal handling is done at the port’s main terminal, operated by PT Karya Cipta Nusantara (KCN) company.

Today, Marunda residents continue to live with polluted air, although they say it has not reached 2022 levels. Indonesian media outlets have been covering their story since 2019, with headlines such as ‘Polusi Debu Batu Bara Ancam Paru-paru Warga Marunda Cilincing’ (Coal Dust Pollution Threatens the Lungs of Marunda Cilincing Residents).

Several discussions have been held through the last four years among frustrated residents, housing complex authorities and KCN. Jakarta’s city government has examined KCN’s operations and done health screenings, but Marunda’s dirty air problem persists.


While government agencies, including health officials, have confirmed that Marunda residents have problems with coal dust, they want answers – and accountability.

“This is what we monitored. We have also reviewed several locations where there are factories still use coal. We’ve tested the emission levels and they are still in a normal level. But there are flying ash (coal dust) that went to the rusunawa,” Asep Kuswanto, Jakarta Environment Agency head, was quoted as saying in December 2022.

In early 2023, Cepi said, the Jakarta Environment Agency said they would analyse the dust particles. In February, the local government put up an air monitor in one of the buildings in the Marunda complex, which has 26 towers and 2,580 home units. Residents were told that  results from the National Research and Innovation Agency’s study are expected after several months.

“We also demand that the government let us know what company caused this coal pollution”, said Jihan Fauziah Hamdi, a lawyer with the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute that has been working with the residents. “How’s the result of the field verification this year? How is the surveillance going? Is there any more sanction on the company that did not follow the rules?”

As of end-June, the legal aid group has yet to receive a reply to the follow-up letter to the environment agency that it sent on 10 May.

KCN, meantime, has legal authority to continue operations while its request for a permit is pending with the environment and foreign ministry, Kuswanto said in January.

In July last year, the company lost its environmental permit. The city’s environment agency had ordered it to stop operations after it failed to address some violations, including those that Kuswanto said involved “overlooking administrative requirements to errors in the process of unloading coal”.

Before it lost its permit, KCN president director Widodo Setiadi was quoted as saying in March: “We see there are people who are eager for us to clash with the provincial government. That’s why there are movements asking the regional government to close, revoke the environmental impact assessment immediately, even though all have been completed.”

At end-June this year, a neighbour sent Cepi photos of coal stevedoring activities at the Marunda port. He also has a photo of coal dust that residents collected after mopping their floor in April. Sixty-six persons among the Marunda residents reported having breathing problems, headaches and cough from January to March 2023, Cepi added.

Officials from the Jakarta Environment Agency-North Jakarta did not respond to requests for comment. The communications head said “sorry” for not being able to comment.

“What happened in Rusunawa Marunda is evidence that our government does not put public health as their priority,” Ahmad Ashov Birry of Trend Asia, a civil society group working on energy transformation, said in an interview.

Read more…

Photo by Melvinas Priananda/Trend Asia