Today I wanted to write about one of the most polluted rivers in the world; the Ciliwung River in Indonesia. The Ciliwung’s pollution comes at it from everywhere; raw sewage, industrial pollution, agricultural pollution, and household trash. When you see pictures of this river, such as the one above, your heart sinks thinking about all the people that live along the river and what it has become.
The Ciliwung is 200 miles long and is the main river that runs through the capital of Jakarta. Of the ten million people in Jakarta half live on less than $2 US per day, and a large percentage of those people live along the Ciliwung, which is its main problem.
The first thing you notice when you look at the Ciliwung as it runs through Jakarta is the amount of trash that is piled on its surface. This is a terrible sight, but it’s what’s under the trash that is really the problem. People that live along the Ciliwung use it for everything from washing themselves to cleaning clothes and dishes, for swimming, and regrettably for going to the bathroom. Contamination from human waste is the biggest cause of pollution in the Ciliwung.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, people don’t drink from the river anymore because of the pollution. However, for most people the alternative is groundwater, and due to poor sanitation practices 90% of the groundwater is polluted with E coli. So what do you do? Either way you’re drinking polluted water.
A few areas do receive clean water to drink, but the supply is erratic and unreliable.
Knowing this it’s not surprising that according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 20,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhoeal diseases a year in Indonesia. An additional 30,000 people die from sanitation and hygiene related illnesses according to the World Bank.
Additionally, as is more common around the world the Ciliwung is polluted from agricultural runoff. Nitrates from fertilizers are causing plant growth in the river which is leading to the river flow being impeded in some places. Also, the plants are using up much of the oxygen in the river which is leading to fish not being able to survive. And even though the fish are most likely very polluted they are a main source of food for people living along the river and are therefore needed to survive.
Industrial pollution also contributes to the pollution. Factories along the river deposit all of their waste directly into the water every day leading to heavy metals, among other things, being found in the water.
Although the Ciliwung is heavily polluted it can be fixed and there are a number of organizations and government bodies trying to make that happen. The Environment Ministry has a 20 year plan to clean up the Ciliwung. The plan is to break the river up into six segments which will allow local municipalities to better manage their section of the river. The plan also will deal with zoning around the river in an effort to keep settlements away from the river. 20 years sounds ambitious, but it’s better to try for 20 years and it take 30 then try for 40 and it take 60.
The government in Jakarta has also been holding events to inform people on how they can help clean up the river. During one such event they taught people how to turn household waste into fertilizer and handed out garbage cans to communities along the river and taught them the importance of not throwing their trash into the river. They even hold competitions for how much garbage could be picked out of the water in a certain amount of time. I think this is one of the best ideas they have. Like with most things you have to make the communities aware of the problem and what they can do to help before any real movement can happen.
Besides the government there are a number of NGOs like the Ciliwung River Project and the Ciliwung Condet Community that are working to clean up the river. A number of these NGOs are part of KRuHA, a coalition of more than 30 Indonesian NGOs that focus on making access to safe water a reality in Indonesia.
So as you can see this river needs a lot of help, but it sounds like if the government and the NGOs are successful it could happen over the next few decades. Something I found interesting while doing research for this article is how hard it was to find any real details of where the pollution was coming from. There were plenty of articles that talked about the pollution but I had to dig to find any real facts. You would think that with millions of people being impacted and thousands dying a year due to this river there would be more info. Kind of shows where the world media’s priorities are. Thanks for reading.