Saving Citarum

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  • A woman washes fish near the mouth of the Citarum river north-west of Muara Gembong, West Java province, February 22, 2018. They are among the 28 million people who depend on the river waters, which supply Jakarta. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

    A woman washes fish near the mouth of the Citarum river north-west of Muara Gembong, West Java province, February 22, 2018. They are among the 28 million people who depend on the river waters, which supply Jakarta. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Citarum is the epitome of our dysfunctional bureaucracy. Many cleanup programs for the largest and longest river in West Java have yet to be implemented effectively as sectoral ego among different agencies often gets in the way. 

    Take a look at the stalled program of Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, for example. He came up with an idea to build a pipe in the river to hold household waste. But his plan went up in smoke because the river banks fall under the authority of the public works ministry. Meanwhile, the ministry`s ongoing program only involves dredging sediments resulted from the conversion of forests upstream into agricultural lands.

    Upstream, the forestry ministry and Perum Perhutani as landowners appear powerless against the public exploiting the forests. Consequently, sedimentation continues despite the Rp1 trillion the ministry splashed out to dredge the river. This situation is compounded by the unprocessed waste in the river dumped by wastewater treatment facilities (IPAL) of various factories.

    The regional government, as the authority delegated to issue business permits, has the ultimate responsibility for the permits it issues. Ironically, however, the second level government is not equipped with investigators to take actions against companies that abuse the permits. The result is that 10.6 million cubic meters of waste flow freely down the Citarum every month. 

    This waste volume alone is 10 times the volume of the water of Sunter Lake in North Jakarta. Coupled with sediment and plastic waste twice the size of the Gedung Sate (the most prominent state building in Bandung)if piled up each month that impede the water flow, Citarum gained international infamy when New York-based NGO Blacksmith Institute named the 269 kilometer-long river: the worlds most toxic river. 

    The government is already on the right track to integrate all the agencies for Citarum. Presidential Regulation No. 15/2018 put Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan at the helm to coordinate among the government, ministries, provincial and regional governments. President Joko Widodo also involved the army, police, judges, and even the anti-corruption agency to enforce the pertinent laws. 

    For decades, factories have gotten away with dumping waste into the river, and they probably managed to do so by greasing the palms of law-enforcement authorities. The audit board found that only 47 percent of the 1,700 companies have IPAL, even though IPAL is the first requirement for establishing a factory. 

    A comprehensive mitigation plan is critical as Citarum is the source of livelihood for 27 million people living along the banks. There are 243,000 hectares of rice fields that rely on the river for water irrigation, which in turn determines the quality of 80 percent of West Java rice. Even drinking water companies rely on it as a source of raw water. Given such complex and multi-sectoral issues, the plan has to be overarching down until the distillation process to make Citarum water potable. 

    All measures tried and tested so far have not yielded maximum results. Citarum Bestari or Citarum Harum, a small Citarum restoration movement spearheaded by the Siliwangi regional military commander Maj. Gen. Doni Monardo, was eventually abandoned after the inter-institutional synchrony was lost. Evaporated along with it was the promise by West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan to clean up Citarum and make its water drinkable. 

    Now the public anxiously awaits the central government's steps for an effective, comprehensive program to salvage life-sustaining Citarum. 

    Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine