Over the years, married couple Edi Suriana and Masitah have grown accustomed to the great smokestacks that emit a constant plume of thick smog a few hundred metres from their home.

The stacks belong to the Suralaya coal plant on the westernmost edge of the Indonesian island of Java. “We’re used to seeing it there,” says Suriana. “But the impacts it’s had have made us realise that coal-fired power plants can never be good for us. And there’s no way we can get used to the smell of burning coal.”

In mid-2019, their young daughter Aqiva Nayla started having difficulty breathing at night and developed what Suriana describes as a “deep and heavy” cough. After a hospital check-up, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and put on a six-month course of antibiotics.

Research has linked poor air quality to a higher risk of TB. A 2019 study found a “strong relationship” between the incidence of TB and exposure to ambient air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, common emissions from coal combustion.

“My daughter had to take those red pills every day for six months,” says Masitah. “I can’t think of any other cause than the pollution from the smokestacks. It will kill us sooner or later.”

More stories on…