'World's most polluted river' finally getting cleaned up
Author: Liam Taylor
Since the beginning of this year Indonesian President Joko Widodo (widely known as Jokowi) has been on a mission to clean up one of the world’s most polluted rivers, the Citarum in West Java.
Whilst numerous governments have attempted to address Citarum’s pollution issues in the past, President Jokowi was inspired by the experiences of two French brothers who rowed down the river in canoes made of plastic bottles in 2017. Sam and Gary Bencheghib, co-founders of Make A Change World, documented their experiences over social media in an effort to raise awareness about the condition of the river and the need for new legislation.
The government responded almost immediately, with an emergency plan put into action by the Environment and Forestry Minister from September, 2017. In February, after touring a particularly contaminated stretch of the river, President Jokowi announced a seven-year Citarum cleansing program with the aim of improving water quality to drinkable levels by 2025.
The Indonesian government is being supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its efforts to rehabilitate the Citarum. It is estimated that other than the environmental benefits of a healthy river, cleaning the Citarum could also bring economic benefits of up to US$280 million annually (approximately 380 million AUD).
Located 70km east of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, the Citarum river runs for 270km and supports over 27 million people for both household and agricultural use. As industry has dramatically ramped up in recent years so has the river’s exposure to industrial waste including plastics, sewage, harmful chemicals and heavy metals. It’s estimated that no less than 20,000 tons of solid waste and 340,000 tons of wastewater is emptied into the river on a daily basis.
As a result, the once-pristine waterway is now listed as one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the world and has been called the 'world's most polluted river' in the past. The water is coloured from orange to green in many areas, levels of heavy metals far exceed safe standards for consumption and nearly 60% of the river’s fish species have been wiped out.
The government's plan includes new regulations to speed up prosecution for offenders and introduce CCTV video surveillance units to monitor operations at factories along the river, installing septic tanks in households, improving waste management systems at farms and wet markets and replanting an estimated 125 million trees. Even more visually impressive is the massive ongoing clean-up operation involving over 5,000 troops from the Indonesian Army as well as community groups, government workers and Islamic clerics.
- Check out the Make a Change World website and Facebook page for further updates and more inspiring environmental stories seeking change.
- Protect your local rivers by recycling wherever possible. Check out Recycling Near You to know which items are accepted for kerbside collection and what actions you can take to dispose of those that aren’t.
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