Polluted Bengawan Solo

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe pollution of the Bengawan Solo River continues without any satisfactory solution. Serious measures are needed against the companies that dispose waste.

    THE beautiful tale of the Bengawan Solo is now only a memory and a eulogy for legendary songwriter Gesang. Now, the longest river in Java is nothing more than a sewer full of dirty water and trash.

    During the dry season as now, the Solo Regional Water Company (PDAM) is not prepared to take water from Bengawan Solo. The need for domestic water for 16,000 PDAM consumers in Solo must be provided from other sources because the river water is dark brown with a foul odor.

    The source of the pollution of the Solo River is public knowledge. Everybody knows how the 600-kilometer waterway has become a place for the disposal of industrial waste. Every year, at least 204 tons of liquid waste and 32,000 tons of trash are disposed of in it. It is not surprising that some people complain of itching or blistered skin if they come into contact with water from the river.

    Ironically, the government has been unable to take action despite the environment and forestry ministry's directorate of water pollution confirming that the critical parameter for Bengawan Solo has reached 541, far higher than the acceptable level of between 40 and 80.

    The government also knows that there are 85 companies that dispose waste in Bengawan Solo and that only 18 of them have a permit to dispose liquid waste. Among the companies that have permits, the government also knows that they sometimes dispose waste that does not meet quality standards. Government officials are in possession of all of this information, but choose to "prioritize the effort to gradually improve" the companies, instead of punishing them.

    The government's tardiness in taking this kind of measure makes no sense. Using the excuse of preserving regional tax revenues and saving jobs, the government closes its eyes to the impact of the pollution on the health of millions of people forced to use water from the Bengawan Solo River. At least seven regional capital water companies in 21 regencies and cities that Benwawan Solo passes through depend on it to supply water to its citizens.

    Last December, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo gathered dozens of industry representatives from Central Java to discuss the pollution of Bengawan Solo. The outcome was that all the companies polluting it were given one year to put right the deficiencies in their equipment and management of waste. It is difficult to accept this kind of policy as making sense. Rather than being punished, or being ordered to put right the environmental damage they had caused, the companies were forgiven and given time to make improvements.

    This kind of paradigm is not the monopoly of the Central Java provincial government. Almost every government institution in Indonesia no longer supports environmental protection, even though it is clear to the advantage of the people to do so. The government tends to side with the interests of companies and economic development. Even on a rhetorical level, it is now difficult to find a government official with the courage to admit being pro-environment. Without support from the government, it is difficult to hope that our environment has a future. It is only a matter of time before the tale of the pollution of Bengawan Solo spreads to other rivers.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine