Colorful fabric masks covering the mouths and noses of people in public places are seen more and more often as a new fashion has swept the city.
Regardless of the inconvenience, the trend is a simple measure taken by many people to protect themselves from air pollution on the city’s streets, public buses and trains.
“Air pollution in Jakarta is getting worse and I don’t want to get a lung ailment, so I choose to wear this mask to minimize my inhalation of polluted air,” 19-year-old Risanti Sentany said while pointing at the colorfully striped cloth mask covering her nose and mouth.
Risanti, a student of Trisakti University in West Jakarta, regularly commutes by train from her parents’ house in Bogor, West Java, to her rented room in Tanjung Gedong, Central Jakarta.
Risanti said she started wearing a mask six months ago because she had a sensitive nose and was allergic to dust. She told The Jakarta Post that she has two colorful masks which cost between Rp 5,000 (57 cents) and Rp 15,000 each.
She said the mask was very uncomfortable at first. “We have to familiarize ourselves. At first it felt like I was short of breath,” adding that sometimes after chasing buses she could hardly breathe at all.
Puti Noviyanda, 26, often buys surgical masks from hawkers in bus terminals around the city. She first began wearing the masks in 2007 when she had the flu, but after she recovered she seldom wore them.
“I started to wear masks again following the government’s advice on efforts to prevent the spread of swine flu,” Puti said.
Swine flu made headlines in Indonesia in 2009 after two suspected H1N1 cases were reported on June 24, 2009.
“Just look at the black smoke from motor vehicle emissions. I’d rather breathe a little harder while wearing a mask,” she said.
Motorcyclist Ichsan Fauzi, 27, believes that wearing a mask and a scarf can protect him from dust and pollution while riding his motorcycle.
“My girlfriend also wears a surgical mask when she rides with me. She is now familiar with the mask, and even wears it when she uses public transportation,” he said.
Handoyo, who produces around 120 masks a day at his house in Pondok Kopi, East Jakarta, said that he started the business last year by duplicating a mask he bought from Asemka market in Central Jakarta.
“It is a good business. Many people want to avoid inhaling polluted air in the streets,” he said.
Soni, who employs several men to sell masks and other items on the street, said he recognized a trend three months ago and had his vendors start selling masks depicting cartoon characters.
Ahmad Safrudin, chairman of the Committee for Leaded Gasoline Phaseout, said that the committee had been waging a campaign to raise public awareness about Jakarta’s air pollution since 2001, an effort that included distributing surgical masks during car-free days.
“Although the masks cannot completely prevent all of the adverse effects of air pollution, at least they can reduce the risk,” Ahmad said.
Like it or not, people had to protect themselves with the cheap masks because the city administration has failed to tackle air pollution, University of Indonesia environmental health expert Budi Har-yanto said.
“It’s good that people are growing more concerned about air pollution and are protecting themselves with masks, regardless of their mediocre quality,” he said, adding that fabric masks and surgical masks could only filter larger sized debris, but not the smaller dust that often caused asthma. They also could not filter germs.
According to Budi, respiratory problems are among the most common diseases affecting people in
However, Jakarta Environment Management Agency (BPLHD) chief Peni Susanti said that the city’s current air quality was better than it was two years ago.
The city administration has made efforts to reduce air pollution by initiating a program to convert Transjakarta buses from oil to gas, holding car free days on main streets on certain weekends, and by requiring emissions tests for privately-owned vehicles, she said. (ipa)