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Piotr Jakubowski of Nafas Unveils Indonesia’s Air Quality

Piotr Jakubowski of Nafas Unveils Indonesia’s Air Quality
Piotr Jakubowski of Nafas Unveils Indonesia's Air Quality

“Air pollution is not an outdoor problem. It’s an everywhere problem, including indoors,” shared Piotr Jakubowski, Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer of Nafas.

“The biggest misconception that people have is that when you walk inside your office, school or house, you are safe from pollution just like from the sun’s rays, the humidity and the heat. We’re not.

“Data shows that the air quality outdoors and indoors is nearly identical. Until we understand this and accept it, we can’t really start taking the steps in our lifestyles to develop a healthier lifestyle. Air pollution is truly an invisible killer, and Nafas is making it visible through data and solutions.”

Who is Piotr Jakubowski?

I had the privilege of being born and growing up in Indonesia, a country which I have called home for the majority of my life. There’s just magic around the people, the culture and the nation that fills me with waves of emotions just thinking about it.

Throughout my career, I jumped from advertising to marketing at startups to building my own startup in the air quality space, something that I never studied before. It’s been a very interesting journey driven primarily by curiosity which developed into intense passion.

At Nafas, Nathan and I generally oversee the entire business – but my key focus areas are science, data, communications, growth, product and strategy. We’re developing a completely new platform in a space that not many people know about. The irony of this is that we can’t live longer than four minutes without the air we breathe. When not at Nafas, I love spending time with my wife and two girls.

Nafas Represents the Most Extensive Collection of Air Quality sensors in Greater Jakarta
Nafas Represents the Most Extensive Collection of Air Quality sensors in Greater Jakarta
It’s been a couple of years since we last chatted. So, what’s new with you and Nafas?

Two key things have happened over the past few years.

First, the Nafas ecosystem has evolved into a platform – you can now check your outdoor air quality in over 180 locations in 15 cities to decide how to manage your daily activities; and find Clean Air Zones near your home as an alternative to spending time outside; turn your office, school, business or home into a Clean Air Zone; and keep track of your indoor air quality from your devices. It’s slowly becoming much easier to be able to breathe healthy air regardless of how polluted it is outside.

Clean Air Zones bring air quality data out to the surface, making the invisible problem visible.

Second, air pollution has become top of mind for a large portion of the population through the recent events in August 2023. Unfortunately, thousands of people, including kids, were hospitalized with many different respiratory illnesses. And surprisingly, it’s not “the worst it’s ever been”. In fact, in July 2021, it was about 10 to 15 percent worse than today, but that happened during the peak of the COVID-19 Delta wave, which was a much more important issue at the time.

Nafas has a simple mission: to help people understand air pollution, and its impact on their health, and enable them to reduce their exposure to hazardous air quality at a neighbourhood level. How does Nafas fit into the talk of the town – air quality?

Nafas has been dedicating resources to awareness, education and solutions to the air pollution problem since the very beginning. There are three key components that we focus on:

  • Pollution Awareness

Each month Nafas publishes a report called “Nafas Buka Data” which dives deep into the air quality data of the previous month. Some facts from the August 2023 report are:

  1. Serpong was the most polluted place with an average monthly PM2.5 level of 83 ug/m3 or the equivalent of smoking 117 cigarettes a month
  2. Bandung had 113 percent more “Unhealthy” hours in August vs July
  3. Tangerang Selatan had the highest pollution out of 15 cities with Nafas sensors
  • Health Impact Awareness

Outside of advocating around the health impact of air pollution through content, Nafas collaborates with universities, hospitals and health-tech companies such as Halodoc.

Recently, Nafas released a whitepaper together with Halodoc highlighting the impact of air pollution on short-term respiratory issues. Nafas combined PM2.5 data with Halodoc’s consultation data from the same period to discover just how quickly pollution impacts our health. News flash – it has a big impact fast. Some key facts:

  1. 34 percent increase in Halodoc consultations for respiratory illnesses for every 10 ug/m3 increase in PM2.5
  2. Up to 500 percent increase in consultations for asthma and bronchitis within 48 hours
  3. 32 percent increase in consultations for children and over 50 percent for adults over 55
Share with us your thoughts on Jakarta ranked as the worst polluted city in the world.

It isn’t. Jakarta being ranked as the most polluted city in the world is simply a headline designed to stir conversation. According to IQAir, Jakarta was ranked the 20th worst capital city in the world in 2022.

Air pollution is extremely different based on geography, time of day and season to be able to create an equal real-time global ranking. At any given time in some places, it’s the middle of the night (which generally has worse pollution), or in winter you have cities, which still use coal and wood for heating – massive sources of pollution – that don’t exist at any other time of the year.

The other problem with thinking about it as a ranking is that too much focus will be placed on the ranking itself and not on the issue. Even at no. 20 in the world, the yearly average is almost seven times higher than the World Health Organisation guideline.

And that’s for Jakarta only. Tangerang Selatan is technically a different city, and in August 2023, breathing air in Serpong was the equivalent of smoking 117 cigarettes!

Why is air quality an underlying issue in major cities like Jakarta?

Where there is human activity there is air pollution – the byproduct of anything that we burn becomes pollution in the air. Major cities have larger populations, which means more of this burning is happening – from energy, transportation, and logistics to industries. Now, in emerging markets, we’re at an even larger disadvantage because there usually is a lack of infrastructure which causes people to burn things they wouldn’t have otherwise done – commercial or agricultural waste. This happens in Indonesia, India, Thailand and many other countries around the world.

You previously stated: “If air quality is an issue that we all care about, then yes, I believe it can subside.” Now that a strong awareness among authorities is in the spotlight, what do you think are the feasible next steps to combat this issue in the long run?

Air pollution is an incredibly complicated problem as it straddles all major industries – energy, transportation, manufacturing, construction, environment. Over the last couple of months, we have seen a lot of scrambling for silver bullet solutions. Unfortunately, there are none – historically, complex policies in the form of Clean Air Acts that were able to clean up the air in the US, UK and China.

What Indonesia needs as soon as possible is a medium-term plan for source apportionment or pollution emissions inventory. This is different from a CO2/GHG emissions inventory because it allows us to individually map out the exact contribution of different types of industries to the various cities in Indonesia throughout the year (yes, pollution sources in wet and dry seasons can be completely different).

People are falling sick from this state of air quality. How can they understand and maintain respiratory health nowadays?

We need to focus on reducing our exposure to air pollution as much as possible – basically, keep the pollution out of our lungs.

Particulate Matter 2.5 or PM2.5 is an extremely small solid particle about 1/36th the size of a grain of sand. These particles are so small that they easily get inside our lungs (our bodies can’t keep them out) and can even pass through our lungs into our bloodstream. At this point, this becomes oxidative inflammation which lends itself to hundreds of diseases which are non-respiratory.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to keep the pollution out. When it’s unhealthy outdoors, it’s very likely also unhealthy indoors, unless we do something about it.

That means a few things:

  1. If it’s bad outside, reduce activity or wear an N95 mask if you have to be outside
  2. Make sure that it’s always good inside – at the office, school or home

It sounds overly simple because it is – the hard part is for people to build habits around this. After all, once again, the problem is invisible.

Within the past couple of weeks, Jakarta’s skies have reportedly become clearer indicating a better air quality index. Suggest solutions that people can further do in their everyday lives to help.

Many of these “changes” and “improvements” that are happening to the air around us result not from the things that we did but from atmospheric and weather conditions. Yes, the last few weeks showed fewer “Unhealthy” hours, but that’s because there’s been more wind and no action on the policy side.

Our suggestions are always the same – regardless of how “clean” the sky seems to be:
  1. Check your air quality every day – adjust your activities based on that
  2. If pollution is high, reduce outdoor activities or wear an N95 mask
  3. Make sure indoor air quality is healthy

In the long term, we can do things like transition our energy to solar, and shift our transportation needs to public transport or EVs. Generally, these are quite difficult to implement due to lack of regulation and lack of will from people.

Can Nafas foresee when Jabodetabek has “fresh air” again?

Outdoors? I wish we could. It took the UK 30 years to clean up its air, the US 20 years and China 10 years – but this was done through extreme measures like moving entire industrial areas and harsh regulatory penalties.

Indoors? Just go to a Clean Air Zone. You can get “fresh air” during business hours. You can find them on the Nafas App.

And if you would like to turn your business into a Clean Air Zone, just reach out to us!

How can our readers get in touch?

Connect with us on social media or send me an email to [email protected] to learn more about air pollution, schedule a talk at your company, or discuss turning your business into a Clean Air Zone.

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