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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev

I was born, raised, and lived in Central Jakarta for more than 25 years. I was proud of calling myself an anak Menteng asli, or a “genuine Menteng kid.” 

Today, I still pass by the hospital where I was born, which is located behind my old high school. And the humble house where I was raised is now a noodle shop selling local delicacies.

Even though Menteng is considered somewhat “elite” by Indonesian standards, many public facilities are far below the standard of not-so-elite suburban American communities.

After more than 12 years of living in California, I plan to split my time traveling back and forth between Jakarta and California more frequently. 

This allows me to see this sprawling city with a fresh pair of eyes. Indonesia’s new status as a member of the G20, which might ascend as an important geopolitical center in Asia in a few short years, unfortunately has not translated into a serious undertaking to address its public health issues.

Sure, traffic and flooding are two nagging issues in Jakarta. But Jakartans have been risking their health and lives unnecessarily. And for improvements to take place, it requires the city government’s involvement in developing acceptable standards and strong enforcement.

Jakartans have for too long been breathing in the dust from dried open sewers and the smog from automobiles. Clean air is crucial to living healthy and long lives.

Open sewers also pose another danger: pedestrians might trip and fall. My late grandfather tripped and fell into open sewer, resulting in a broken rib and several months of recovery. 

Of course, it would require a detailed survey to find out how many individuals have become direct victims of open sewers in Jakarta.

Jakartans have grown accustomed to annual dengue fever epidemics, now that this disease is no longer taken seriously. From January to mid-March this year, “only” 437 cases of dengue fever were reported, a decrease from 530 cases last year. 

Compare this statistic with statistics on West Nile virus, which is also a mosquito-borne disease, in San Joaquin County, California. A single case of West Nile virus reported in the county in 2011 was sufficient to move the health department to implement extra efforts to eliminate mosquitoes and prevent mosquito bites to the greatest possible extent.

How many lives must be wasted in Jakarta because of mosquito bites, before the government is aware that its ignorance is killing the city’s residents?

Jakartans risk unnecessary coronary diseases due to contaminated cooking oil and parasite-related diseases due to the lack of food service guidelines in the city’s restaurants and food stalls. 

Every professional facility and catering service in the US must adhere to strict standards of food safety and hygiene by attending classes, passing exams and passing period inspections.

As of Jan. 1, 2006, US Department of Public Health required all food labels to list trans-fat content along with other bad fats (saturated fats) and good ones (unsaturated fats). The local government of San Francisco, through local health code regulations, regulates trans-fat free restaurants as a way of promoting healthy living. 

A “trans-fat free” certificate will be issued after passing a rigorous inspection. The quality and type of cooking oil used determines the quality of life in the long run, as most “modern” health issues, such as coronary diseases and stroke are highly related to usage of cooking oil.

Jakartans live with deafening background noises: cars honking, motorbikes blaring, food sellers shouting, walking vendors calling, and parking attendants yelling. Whenever background noises died away momentarily, I looked at my watch and timed the temporary serenity. It never lasted for more than two minutes.

When Noesreini Meliala, a senior journalist from Femina magazine, came to visit me in California for a face-to-face interview several years ago, she was surprised at the tranquility that surrounded my residence, which was located in a middle-class residential suburb. She asked, “Where are all the people, Jen?”

A nurturing and inspiring environment is naturally enhanced by the ambiance of the city (or the town) as city government officials seriously tackle issues of noise, garbage and public health issues. 

In Jakarta, such an environment can be found and bought in five-star hotels, like the Ritz Carlton and the Grand Hyatt. I love the cleanliness, orderliness, and the quiet ambiance there, but not the posh furniture or the expensive food and beverages.

Consequently, a new Rp 5 billion (US$549,000) luxury house in a suburb of West Jakarta that comes with open sewers, which pose unnecessary health risks to its occupants, sounds incredibly overpriced when compared to modest cabin by Lake Tahoe with the same price tag. For the same price, I can live elsewhere with serenity and don’t need to deal with unnecessary health risks.

I hope Jakarta gubernatorial candidates are listening.[]

The writer is an award-winning author and columnist born and raised in Indonesia and currently based in Northern California.

Jakarta Post, March 31, 2012

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