Environment issues in Indonesia include deforestation; water pollution from industrial wastes, sewage; air pollution in urban areas; smoke and haze from forest fires. International environmental groups have pressed Jakarta to accept environmental responsibility its territories, monitor pollution in its national territorial waters and to take legal action to prevent the destruction of its rain forests. Since the late 1960s, the government has addressed increasing environmental problems by establishing resource-management programs, conducting environmental-impact analyses, developing better policy enforcement, and enacting appropriate laws to give government officials proper authority. Despite these efforts, corruption, overlapping competencies among government departments, and legal uncertainties about departmental jurisdictions have slowed progress against environmental degradation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Indonesia’s geography leaves the nation vulnerable to severe flooding, unpredictable drought and plant pest attacks, volcanic activity, and earthquakes, which are sometimes associated with tidal waves (tsunami). The most important environmental issues associated with human activities are forest degradation (unregulated cutting, fires, smoke and haze, and erosion); water pollution from industrial wastes and sewage; air pollution from motor vehicles and industry in urban areas, and generally from smoke and haze caused by forest fires; and threats to biodiversity and rare plant and animal species. *

Centuries-old patterns of resource exploitation in Indonesia began to change very rapidly in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The rice-growing peasantry is shrinking as a result of mechanization, fertilizer use, and intensification of agriculture; the coastal commercial sector has been transformed by overfishing and new technology for interisland commerce; and traditional swidden farming communities of the upland forest have been increasingly crowded out by industrial logging. *

The cumulative effects of rising population density, urbanization, agricultural intensification, resource extraction, and manufacturing have had a significant impact on the Indonesian environment in recent decades. Home to the world’s largest reef system, one of its largest expanses of rain forest, and some of its richest areas of biodiversity, Indonesia is now experiencing serious environmental deterioration.

The greatest threat to the environment in Indonesia is development. The head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Indonesia told the New York Times, “We are in a constant race with development. Before we even have a chance to convince the wider audience here that environmentally sound development is a viable way to do things, the plans to build roads, factories or power plants are already moving ahead. We have a problem here with unemployment, so any developer who can sell promises of employment will get support. When that happened, we get labeled as against employment and get treated as outsiders.” Going hand in hand with this is Indonesia’s rising population and a lack of money for environmental programs,.

The use of ozone-layer-depleting chemicals in India and China and to a lesser extent in Indonesia threaten to cancel out progress made in reducing the use of these chemicals in the developed world.

Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Indonesia’s Long History of Living in Peace with Nature

The people of Indonesia have a long history of living peacefully with the environment. On the islands of Banda, there were ecologically-minded taboos against cutting trees in areas that provided sources for drinking water, disrupting breeding areas for fish and disturbing forests with medical plants. These rules were passed on orally from one generation to the next. On Sumatra, there are jungle taboos such as bathing naked, sharing food from the same pot or dangling one’s leg over the edge of the platform they sleep on. Many local people regard the tiger as an enforcer of proper behavior and believe that a person who is killed by a tiger is being punished for some crime or transgression or broken taboo.

For centuries, the geographical resources of the Indonesian archipelago have been exploited in ways that fall into consistent social and historical patterns. One cultural pattern consists of the formerly Indianized, rice-growing peasants in the valleys and plains of Sumatra, Java, and Bali; another cultural complex is composed of the largely Islamic coastal commercial sector; a third, more marginal sector consists of the upland forest farming communities which exist by means of subsistence swidden agriculture. To some degree, these patterns can be linked to the geographical resources themselves, with abundant shoreline, generally calm seas, and steady winds favoring the use of sailing vessels, and fertile valleys and plains--at least in the Greater Sunda Islands--permitting irrigated rice farming. The heavily forested, mountainous interior hinders overland communication by road or river, but fosters slash-and-burn agriculture. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Environmental Problem in the Suharto Years

In the Suharto years from the mid 1960s to the late 1990s, companies with connection to Suharto's family and his cronies were behind much of the environmental damage caused by logging, mining and development. Between 1975 and 1988, the release of toxic chemicals increased 500 percent.

Ecological and economic adaptation experienced tremendous pressures during the 1970s and 1980s, with rising population density, soil erosion, river-bed siltation, and water pollution from agricultural pesticides and off-shore oil drilling. In the coastal commercial sector, for instance, the livelihood of fishing people and those engaged in allied activities--roughly 5.6 million people--began to be imperiled in the late 1970s by declining fish stocks brought about by the contamination of coastal waters. Fishermen in northern Java experienced marked declines in certain kinds of fish catches and by the mid-1980s saw the virtual disappearance of the terburuk fish in some areas. Effluent from fertilizer plants in Gresik in northern Java polluted ponds and killed milkfish fry and young shrimp. The pollution of the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Sumatra from oil leakage from the Japanese supertanker Showa Maru in January 1975 was a major environmental disaster for the fragile Sumatran coastline. The danger of supertanker accidents also increased in the heavily trafficked strait. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The coastal commercial sector suffered from environmental pressures on the mainland, as well. Soil erosion from upland deforestation exacerbated the problem of siltation downstream and into the sea. Silt deposits covered and killed once-lively coral reefs, creating mangrove thickets and making harbor access increasingly difficult, if not impossible, without massive and expensive dredging operations. *

Although overfishing by Japanese and American "floating factory" fishing boats was officially restricted in Indonesia in 1982, the scarcity of fish in many formerly productive waters remained a matter of some concern in the early 1990s. As Indonesian fishermen improved their technological capacity to catch fish, they also threatened the total supply. *

A different, but related, set of environmental pressures arose in the 1970s and 1980s among the rice-growing peasants living in the plains and valleys. Rising population densities and the consequent demand for arable land gave rise to serious soil erosion, deforestation because of the need for firewood, and depletion of soil nutrients. Runoff from pesticides polluted water supplies in some areas and poisoned fish ponds. Although national and local governments appeared to be aware of the problem, the need to balance environmental protection with pressing demands of a hungry population and an electorate eager for economic growth did not diminish. *

Major problems faced the mountainous interior regions of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Sumatra. These problems included deforestation, soil erosion, massive forest fires, and even desertification resulting from intensive commercial logging--all these threatened to create environmental disaster. In 1983 some 3 million hectares of prime tropical forest worth at least US$10 billion were destroyed in a fire in Kalimantan Timur Province. The disastrous scale of this fire was made possible by the piles of dead wood left behind by the timber industry. Even discounting the calamitous effects of the fire, in the mid-1980s Indonesia's deforestation rate was the highest in Southeast Asia, at 700,000 hectares per year and possibly as much as 1 million hectares per year. Although additional deforestation came about as a result of the government-sponsored Transmigration Program (transmagrasi) in uninhabited woodlands, in some cases the effects of this process were mitigated by replacing the original forest cover with plantation trees, such as coffee, rubber, or palm. In many areas of Kalimantan, however, large sections of forest were cleared, with little or no systematic effort at reforestation.*

After Suharto was ousted things have only gotten worse. Democracy has created a free-for-all atmosphere that has allowed people to exploit the environment any way they can and not suffer any consequences about it. One U.S. environmentalist told Newsweek. “The tragedy of democracy is going to be the environment. It’s anarchy. People are trying to grab what they can.”

Global Warming and Indonesia

Deforestation, peatlands degradation and slash-and-burn agriculture—which together accounts for 80 percent of Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions— make Indonesia the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter in some years, behind China and the United States and ahead of India and industrial countries like Japan and Germany.

Bryan Walsh wrote in Time, “Indonesia emits 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually--almost entirely from deforestation. Living trees absorb CO2, and as they are cut down or burned, they release their stored carbon into the air. Trees also absorb sunlight, warming the earth, but in the tropics their ability to absorb CO2 and promote cloud formation has a net cooling effect. In addition, thinning forests mean fewer trees to soak up the carbon emitted by industry and transport. Deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of global carbon emissions, more than from all the cars, boats and planes in the world. Plenty of programs plant trees to offset emissions, but it is even more important to save the trees we already have. "You've got to deal with forests if you're going to make any progress on climate change," says Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund. [Source: Bryan Walsh, Time July 12, 2007]

Greenhouse has emissions from development and industrialization are increasing. Power plants are burning more coal and oil to fuel am industrial and economic boom and increased demand by households for electricity. Car sales are increasing. According to the CIA World Factbook Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy were 426.8 million Mt in 2011.

Global warming is being blamed for spreading disease in Indonesia. Malaria has been reported in the highlands of Papua at 6,900 feet, an altitude that was once thought to be too high and cold for malaria mosquitos. Jakarta is particularly vulnerable to sea level rises and flooding associated with global warming. The equatorial glaciers in Papua are disappearing fast and global warming is blamed. Three glaciers in Papua that were melting. The ye lost 30 meters per year in the 1920s and are now retared 45 meters years. Global warming is believed to be a factor.

In 2007, Bali hosted the United Nations Climate Change Convention, in which 187 countries agreed to launch a two-year process of formal negotiations on strengthening international efforts to fight, mitigate and adapt to the problem of global warming. After almost two weeks of marathon discussions, delegates have agreed on both the agenda for the negotiations and a 2009 deadline for completing them so that a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions can enter into effect in 2013. Under the so-called Bali Roadmap, the key issues during the upcoming negotiations will be: taking action to adapt to the negative consequences of climate change, such as droughts and floods; devising ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; finding ways to deploy climate-friendly technology; and financing adaptation and mitigation measures. [Source: Science Daily, United Nations, December 17, 2007]

Pollution in Indonesia

According to a survey of expatriates living in Asia, India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong are regarded as the dirties countries in Asia, while Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were regarded as the cleanest. Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan were in the middle.

Jakarta is shrouded by a thick cloak of smog and has severe water problems. In the early 2000s, only half the population was hooked up to the municipal water systems and only two percent were hooked up to sewage systems. All the rivers are dead, smothered by acids, alcohol and oils. Some of Jakarta’s river are so choked with garbage that some residents make a living by picking through it and collect recyclable materials. Wastes flow into well water and salt from the Java Sea seeps in aquifers that supply drinking and bathing waters for hundreds of thousands of people. If that wasn't enough water taken from the aquifers is causing the city to sink and neighborhoods to become so flooded they have to be rebuilt every few years to keep them above sea level. Only now is extensive work being done to bring piped water to most of the city. The work is being done by a French and British companies and is expected to be completed in 2025. In the meantime people have to put up with water that is often contaminated and makes them sick.

Air Pollution in Indonesia

Air pollution, caused by rapidly rising levels of motor-vehicle emissions (90 percent of vehicles still use leaded fuel) and by forest fires linked to palm-oil plantation development, have given rise to respiratory problems that have become the country’s sixth most common cause of death. Forest fires in Kalimantan during 1997–98 produced a thick, smoky haze that covered much of Southeast Asia, resulting in closed schools and businesses as well as deaths and illnesses related to respiratory disorders. The fires also drew worldwide attention to the uncertain future of the region’s forest resources. [Source: Library of Congress]

Air Pollution includes particles of soot, organic hazardous material, heavy metals, acid aerosols and dust. The smaller particles are more dangerous because they are more easily inhaled. Vehicles and to a lesser extent industry are causes of most of Indonesia’s air pollution. In Jakarta traffic policeman carry oxygen bottles.

Jakarta was rated as having the world’s second worst air pollution after Mexico City in the 1980s and 90s. At that time Jakarta had high levels of lead, ozone and carbon dioxides but had relatively low levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Levels of particles of smoke in Asian cities (micrograms per cubic meter from 1987 to 1990): Calcutta (400); Beijing (380); Jakarta (280); Hong Kong (120); Bangkok (100); Manila (95); Tokyo (50). Compared to New York (60).

Jakarta doesn’t rate as high in air pollution ranking as it once did, not so much because conditions in Jakarta have improved but rather because other cities around the globe have gotten worse. The pollution of Jakarta and its satellite cities is expected to grow to 37 million tons in the year 2015.

Water Pollution in Indonesia

Indonesia has some of the worst water pollution in Asia. The shortage of sewerage facilities is an especially serious problem. For example, because less than 3 percent of Jakarta’s population is connected to a sewerage system, the city’s waste is typically discharged either into private septic tanks or directly into rivers or canals. Sewage disposal into such bodies of water is linked in particular with repeated epidemics of gastrointestinal infection. In rural areas, runoff from increased use of pesticides and fertilizers has resulted in raised levels of toxicity in the water supply, excessive accumulation of algae in riverbeds, and the consequent destruction of marine life. The coastal commercial sector suffers from environmental pressures originating in the highland interiors of the islands. Soil erosion from upland deforestation exacerbates the problem of silting downstream and into the sea. Silt deposits cover and kill once-lively coral reefs, creating mangrove thickets and making harbor access increasingly difficult, if not impossible, without massive and expensive dredging operations. [Source: Library of Congress]

Very few cities have sewer systems. Instead people rely on septic tank systems or dispose of their waste in canals or rivers or simply go out in the fields. Lake of sewage systems are major cause of water pollutions. Off the coast of Indonesia there are rivers of refuge and raw sewage that strech for miles

See Freeport Mine, Papua

Citarum River and Kalimantan: Among World’s Most Polluted Places

In 2013, Citarum River in West Java and the entire island of Kalimantan were named among the world’s 10 most polluted places along with Chernobyl in Ukraine according to a report by environmental organization Green Cross Switzerland and international nonprofit organization Blacksmith Institute. Nadya Natahadibrata wrote in The Jakarta Post, “Citarum River, which provides 80 percent of surface water to Jakarta and irrigates farms that supply 5 percent of Indonesia’s rice, was among the most polluted due to hazardous industrial waste. Textile factories in Bandung and Cimahi were found to be the major toxic waster contributors to the river that was also judged the dirtiest river in the world in 2007. As for Kalimantan, the report said that much of the pollution there had come from the vast small-scale gold mining in the area that utilized mercury in the gold extraction process. The mercury, which is burned off during the smelting process, released toxic chemicals into the air and waterways, where it might accumulate in fish and water, it said. [Source: Nadya Natahadibrata, The Jakarta Post, November 6 2013 *-*]

“Greenpeace forest political campaigner Teguh Surya said environmental destruction in Kalimantan had been so massive that the public could easily see the damage that had been done without an investigation being conducted. “Air and water pollution in Kalimantan are not solely caused by mercury. Coal mining and oil palm plantations have significantly contributed to pollution in the area,” he said. *-*

“Meanwhile, deputy minister of pollution control MR Karliansyah said that major companies were not to blame for the pollution as they had followed the proper procedures for the processing of toxic waste. He said that small companies could be blamed for the pollution. “It is hard to force the small scale industry to comply with these regulations because most of them have no installation to process the waste. Also, 70 percent of the water pollution in Indonesia comes from domestic waste, which is still very hard to control,” Karliansyah said. *-*

“Karliansyah shrugged off the new pollution report, saying that it might have exaggerated the problem. “I think it is an exaggeration to put Citarum and Kalimantan alongside Chernobyl,” he said. The list also includes Agbogbloshie in Ghana, the second-largest waste processing area in West Africa; Hazaribagh in Bangladesh —home to 95 percent of the country’s tanneries and Dzerzhinsk in Russia, which is the center of the country’s chemical manufacturing industry. *-*

Use of Toxic Chemicals in Indonesia

Nadya Natahadibrata wrote in The Jakarta Post, “Greenpeace toxin-free water campaign manager Ahmad Ashov said the report showed that the government lacked in its efforts to control the use of toxic materials in industry. “The government only controls the waste, when in fact it should ban the utilization of all hazardous substances,” Ashov told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. Ashov said that based on Greenpeace investigation, around 100,000 toxic materials were being used without being evaluated. [Source: Nadya Natahadibrata, The Jakarta Post, November 6 2013 *-*]

“Government Regulation No. 74/2001 on hazardous and toxic materials only regulates around 255 substances, when in fact there are actually a lot more substances being used out there,” he said. “Some of the substances that have not been regulated are nonylphenol ethoxylate and pthalate, which can cause reproductive disorders and cancer. These substances were found in Citarum River,” he said.The two substances have been phased out of many products in the United States and Europe due to health risks, yet they are still widely use in Indonesia’s textile industry. “The short-term impact of these hazardous chemicals are, for instance, skin diseases, which have infected residents of Majalaya, West Java. This could lead to skin cancer in the long run,” Ashov said, citing that health impacts on Jakarta residents had yet to be investigated *-*.

Mercury Poisoning in Kalimantan, Indonesia

The Blacksmith Institute reported: “Kalimantan is the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo and is composed of five provinces. In two of those provinces, Central and South, Artisanal Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) forms the primary source of income for 43,000 people. The vast majority of ASGM miners globally utilize mercury in the gold extraction process. The mercury forms an amalgam with gold concentrate and is burned off in rudimentary smelting. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) estimates that more than 1,000 tons of mercury are released into the environment each year through this process, which constitutes about 30 percent of the anthropogenic mercury emissions. [Source:Blacksmith Institute ^=^]

Mercury vapors can travel long distances in the atmosphere, and partly for this reason, have attracted considerable international attention. Importantly, however, the most acute health risks posed by ASGM sites are more local in nature. Many miners smelt within the home, releasing dangerous amounts of mercury vapor that are trapped inside. Additionally, mercury released during the amalgamation process (before smelting) is easily released into area waterways where it can accumulate in fish and water. One article published in the Journal of Water and Environment Technology in 2008 found a concentration of mercury in the Kahayan River of Central Kalimantan that was 2,260 ng/L. This is more than twice Indonesia’s standard for total mercury in drinking water (1,000 ng/L). ^=^

The Indonesian government is making progress on this issue. As a signatory to the recently adopted Minamata Convention on Mercury (10 October 2013), Indonesia has taken an important step with the international community to limit anthropogenic releases of mercury. Additionally, the Ministry of Environment has long supported the work of NGOs like Blacksmith Institute and Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta (YTS) to work with miners in a collaborative fashion to mitigate their releases and exposure.

Mercury Poisoning and Gold Mining in Indonesia

In Indonesia, the gold industry supports some three million people, many of them small time miners in Kalimantan who often poisoned themselves, their families and the land with mercury and other pollutants. Linda Pressly of BBC Radio 4 reported: “In Central Kalimantan the effects of this unregulated industry on the environment have been devastating. Around Kereng Pangi, the miners have cleared virgin forest once home to orang-utans and hornbills. What is left is a lunar-like landscape, its pools polluted with mercury. "There are 60,000 hectares of denuded area that are completely pitted like this," explains Sumali Agrawal the technical director of YTS, a local NGO working to mitigate the impact of mercury. "You can see it on Google Earth - a white patch in the middle of a green landscape. This was formerly tropical rainforest on a sand substrate. If you left it alone for 50 years, some vegetation would grow, but there would never be a diverse rainforest here again." [Source: Linda Pressly BBC Radio 4, September 13, 2013 |::|]

“There are no large nuggets of gold to be mined around Kereng Pangi - only tiny particles of the precious metal are present in the tons of earth. Miners use mechanical sluices to trap the mud that is rich in gold. They mix this with mercury in buckets using their bare hands. On the Indonesian island of Lombok, its potential for harm is multiplied because it is being used in conjunction with cyanide. "Together mercury and cyanide create double the problem in the environment," says Dr Dewi Krisnayanti, a soil scientist specialising in heavy metals at Lombok's Mataram University. |::|

“Cyanide helps to dissolve the mercury, and when the waste is spilled into paddy fields it binds with organic molecules in the environment, becoming methyl mercury. This is far more toxic - in Minamata it was methyl mercury that poisoned thousands of people. Dewi has analysed samples of rice seeds and leaves from the paddy fields in the south-west of the island. Children play on the cyanide- and mercury-contaminated tailings, adjacent to working rice paddies on the Indonesian island of Lombok Cyanide- and mercury-contaminated waste, next to working rice paddies on Lombok "The concentration of methyl mercury was the highest ever recorded in a laboratory - 115 parts per billion," she says. "I felt very sad when I saw the data, because methyl mercury can be absorbed by plants, get into the food chain and affect human health." |::|

“Indonesian's Assistant Deputy Minister of the Environment, Halimah Syafrul, says controls on illegal imports of mercury are being tightened. And the government hopes the forthcoming ratification of the UN treaty on mercury - known as the Minamata Convention - will bring international assistance to help Indonesia's miners find alternatives to the use of mercury. "There is pollution in the environment, pollution in the rivers, destruction in the mountainous areas and destruction of our protected forests. It's a similar situation in almost every province and we have 34 provinces in Indonesia," says Halimah, an environmental scientist by training. |::|

“Dr Rachmadi Purwana, professor of Public Health at the University of Indonesia is worried. "The threat is there every day and it is escalating. We have to remember that in Japan a small place like Minamata shattered the whole world by revealing Minamata disease. In Indonesia, it's not only in one village, it's throughout the country. In nearly every province, there is small-scale gold mining." And what is Rachmadi's fear if there is no action? "A national disaster." |::|

Mercury Poisoning of People Involved with Gold in Kalimantan

Linda Pressly of BBC Radio 4 reported: “Fahrul Raji, a man in his early 30s, is not feeling well. At the health centre in Kereng Pangi, a town in Central Kalimantan surrounded by goldfields, he explains his symptoms. "I often have a headache, and I am weak. I have a bitter taste in my mouth." According to Dr Stephan Bose-O'Reilly, who is examining him, Fahrul is being slowly poisoned by mercury. "Fahrul's been working with mercury for many years, and he's showing the typical symptoms of mercury intoxication," says Bose-O'Reilly, a German medic who began studying the impact of mercury on Indonesians' health a decade ago. "He also has a tremor and a co-ordination problem." [Source: Linda Pressly BBC Radio 4, September 13, 2013 |::|]

“Although mercury use in small-scale gold mining in Indonesia is illegal, miners still use it to extract gold from the rock or soil. Fahrul isn't a miner, but he has a gold shop in Kereng Pangi. Every day miners bring him the fruits of their labour - usually a pea-sized piece of amalgam that is mercury mixed with gold. Fahrul burns it, and the mercury evaporates leaving the gold behind. But the fumes are highly toxic, which is why smelters like Fahrul often show more severe signs of mercury poisoning than miners who use it in the field. |::|

“Fahrul's gold shop is on the main street of Kereng Pangi. He sits behind a wooden counter, his blow torch behind him, waiting for business. At the end of the day, the miners arrive with their pieces of amalgam ready for smelting. Fahrul says he's worried about the impact of mercury on his health, but he has no intention of changing his job. "This is a family business that's been handed down to me. My father was also a gold buyer. And he's about 65 now, and still looks healthy." |::|

“Even though he has symptoms, Fahrul has convinced himself that the risk he runs is small. And that is the problem with mercury - its effects are not dramatic enough, in the short term, to act as a viable deterrent. If Fahrul continues to smelt mercury in his gold shop, and inhale the poisonous fumes, it is likely his symptoms will get worse. Bose-O'Reilly says his urine contains 697 micrograms of mercury per litre - far more than usual. "This is incredibly high," he says. "Most people would have one or two micrograms at most." |::|

Citarum, the Most Polluted River in the World?

The Citarum River in West Java is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world. The Citarum River Basin in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia covers an area of approximately 13,000 square kilometers, coming into contact with a population of 9 million people. The river provides as much as 80 percent of surface water to Jakarta’s water supply authority, irrigates farms that supply 5 percent of Indonesia’s rice, and is a source of water for upwards of 2,000 factories. [Source: Blacksmith Institute]

Olivia Yallop wrote in The Telegraph, “Forty miles east of Jakarta, Indonesia, the river Citarum runs over 186 miles from the Wayang Mountain to the Java Sea. The island’s largest river supports more than 30 million residents who rely on the water source for agricultural, domestic and personal use. However, unregulated factory growth since the area’s rapid industrialisation in the 1980s has choked the Citarum with both human and industrial waste. Over 200 textile factories line the river banks. The dyes and chemicals used in the industrial process - lead, arsenic and mercury amongst them - are churned into the water, changing its colour and lending the area an acrid odour. Plastic, packaging, and other detritus floats in the scummy water, rendering the river’s surface invisible beneath its carpet of junk. The effect on the local ecosystem has been devastating. Fish float dead on the surface of the water, and local fishermen have turned to entrepreneurial methods of survival, picking up plastic from the water for recycling. [Source: Olivia Yallop, The Telegraph, April 11, 2014]

Local residents and factories in Bandung dump large amounts of industrial and household waste directly into the river on a daily basis. It is estimated that over half of the city’s waste goes directly into the river, untreated, including a number of chemicals such as lead, cadmium, chromium, and pesticides from industry. The river provides as much as 80 percent of household water for Jakarta’s 14 million residents, irrigates farms that supply 5 percent of Indonesia’s rice, and is a source of water for upwards of 2,000 factories. Direct exposure, such as ingesting untreated or simply boiled water from the river also effects a significant population. Nearly half a million residents are directly ingesting water with lead concentrations that have tested at 25,000 times the recommended level. [Source: Green Cross]

A range of contaminants are present in the river, from both industrial and domestic sources. Field investigations conducted by Blacksmith Institute, for instance found levels of lead at more than 1,000 times the USEPA standard in drinking water. A 2013 APN Science bulletin found that aluminum, manganese, and iron concentrations in the river were 97 ppb, 195 ppb, and 194 ppb, respectively. These are all significantly higher than the world averages, which are 32 ppb, 34 ppb, and 66 ppb, respectively. The concentrations are also well above the recommended level’s of heavy metals in drinking water set by the EPA. Manganese in drinking water, for example, has a standard of 50 ppb to minimize adverse health effects. Water in the Citarum River has concentrations of manganese that are nearly four times those recommended levels. [Source: Blacksmith Institute]

Living on the Citarum, the World’s Most Polluted River

Jack Hewson of Al Jazeera wrote: Growing up in the village of Majalaya, West Java, she was able to wash her clothes and bathe her younger sister in the water. But much has changed since her family moved here in 1973. The grey, plastic-strewn liquid that oozes past her community is now a drab reflection of her childhood memories. [Source: Jack Hewson, Al Jazeera, November 21, 2013 /~\]

“For the past four decades, Indonesia's lax pollution controls have allowed industries to discharge toxic waste into the Citarum with near impunity. West Java's inadequate waste-disposal infrastructure has made the river the de facto dumpsite for its residents. Huge volumes of rubbish float through its murky waters and accumulate in stinking piles along its banks. Poor sanitation means human waste flows into the river untreated, along with farm slurry and pesticides. /~\

Since the 1970s more than 800 textile factories have set up in and around Majalaya, earning it the moniker "Dollar City". Entin recalls the opening of the first dyeing factory, around the time she got married in 1976, as the time when the river noticeably started to change. "The water would go green, black, yellow, brown. When it turned white it smelt especially bad," she says. No one bathes in the river anymore, but Entin and her family must still use it to shower, clean their dishes and brush their teeth. They have no other option. /~\

“They are lucky that they can get drinking water from a neighbour's well. Fifteen million people remain directly reliant on the Citarum for drinking and bathing water. Sitting next to Entin, her granddaughter sporadically scratches her forearms. Skin irritation is widespread in Majalaya, itching is experienced by most of those who use the water to wash, and many suffer chronic dermatitis. Respiratory problems are also very common. "I never feel clean," Entin says. "I have a reddish mark on my skin, all of my body feels itchy and I struggle to sleep at night. It's the same for my family. All of the people who live here have skin problems, from top to bottom … Now, if the water colour changes quickly, the itching gets worse. I'm angry, but I don't know who to get angry at. We talk to the community leaders, and they went to the factories already, but they don't respond. The only thing that matters to them is to keep the business running, not the villagers' lives." /~\

“Members of the Elingan Community Group, which represents the interests of Majalaya's residents, claim to have been threatened for speaking out. Elingan leader Deny Riswandani says he has received so many threats that he has been forced to move to another area and must constantly change his phone number.” /~\

Indonesia’s Textile Industry and the Citarum River

Jack Hewson of Al Jazeera wrote: “As one of the most important economic interests in the country, textile manufacturers are powerful political players. In 2010, textiles accounted for 8.9 percent of the country's total exports, and textiles, leather products and footwear contributed 9 percent to Indonesia's GDP. An estimated 11 percent of the total industrial labour force - 1.3 million people as of 2011 - works in the industry. The products of many multinational clothing brands are manufactured here, with 61 percent of garments being shipped to foreign markets. The impact of these hard economic facts on the government's attitude to regulation is difficult to determine. What is certain, however, is how utterly regulation has failed. [Source: Jack Hewson, Al Jazeera, November 21, 2013 /~\]

Meanwhile, the river supplies 80 percent of Jakarta's surface water and it irrigates five percent of the country's rice farms. "Industry is using [the Citarum River] as a kind of testing ground for industrial chemicals," says Ahmad Ashov, a toxic campaigner for Greenpeace in Southeast Asia. According to Ahmad, the government only regulates 264 chemicals, out of the 100,000 that are used in the global textile industry - and to which 1,500 are added every year. This effectively allows companies to discharge thousands of hazardous chemicals without fear of prosecution. Even if a factory is discharging one of the 45 industrial chemicals banned under Indonesian law, Ahmad says it is an open secret that inspectors can be paid to look the other way. Thus far, only 14 companies have ever received administrative or criminal sanctions for contamination of the Citarum. /~\

A Greenpeace investigation into PT Gistex Textiles Division - whose parent company PT Gistex Group supplies Gap, H&M and Adidas - found that their effluent contained an array of hazardous chemicals, despite having been deemed legally compliant, from 2010-11, with the government's Public Disclosure of Industrial Pollution programme (PROPER). According to Greenpeace's report, tests carried out in May 2012 at the factory, located in Cimahi, 40 kilometers from Majalaya, found wastewater from one of the facility's outflow pipes to be pH14 - the highest possible level of alkalinity, capable of burning human flesh. "During the tests I got a couple of tiny splashes on my face," Ahmad says. "It hurt and then was itchy for about a week." /~\

“At the facility's main outflow pipe they detected nonylphenol, a well-known persistent environmental contaminant with hormone-disrupting properties, together with nonylphenol ethoxylates, tributyl phosphate and high levels of dissolved antimony. All of the substances are internationally known to be damaging to human health and animal and plant life, but none of them are regulated by the Indonesian government. /~\

“Gap Inc - whose brand name was featured on PT Gistex's website until March 2013 - denied sourcing from PT Gistex Textile Division, from which the wastewater samples were taken. However, Gap admitted purchasing products from "another facility" owned by PT Gistex Group, located 30 kilometers from PT Gistex Textile Division. The Adidas Group denied sourcing from PT Gistex Textile Division but confirmed that it had an indirect sourcing relationship, through a licensee, with PT Gistex Garment Division, located 30 kilometers away in Cileunyi. /~\

“H&M denied having a business relationship with PT Gistex Textile Division but admitted buying garments from PT Gistex Garment Division. H&M said there was "no found evidence" that any fabric from PT Gistex Textile Division had been used in any H&M products produced by PT Gistex Garment Division. PT Gistex Group failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview or statement. On one occasion Gistex's receptionist claimed that their spokesperson was unable to talk because he was in intensive care with a stomach complaint. /~\

Efforts to Clean Up the Citarum River

Jack Hewson of Al Jazeera wrote: “In 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced a $500m loan to rehabilitate the Citarum, but four years later it has yet to invest any of that money in water rehabilitation. To date, the Citarum has not met Indonesian water quality standards since they were established in 1989.[Source: Jack Hewson, Al Jazeera, November 21, 2013 /~\]

“Since the Citarum was identified as a "super-priority river" in 1984, the river's water quality has continued to deteriorate. As part of a $3.5bn government project to restore the Citarum River Basin in 2009 the ADB lent the Indonesian government $500m, to be released over a period of 15 years. But in an interview, Thomas Panella, a principal water resources specialist at the ADB, struggled to explain why, four years since the announcement of the loan, no money had yet been channeled into improvement of water quality. /~\

“He stressed the need to look at the bigger picture and that water rehabilitation was only one aspect of rehabilitating the river. "You've got these factories that are in many cases providing pollution. But at the same time they are employing hundreds of thousands of people who need a place to work," he explains. "There are a lot of difficult issues that need to be addressed… You can't do everything." According to Panella, $130m will be released for water rehabilitation projects in 2014, but he says Indonesia's decentralised government structure would "raise challenges" for administering the money. "We are a financier, we work with the government," he says. "The government decides how it will spend its funds." /~\

“The office of Rasio Ridho Sani, deputy minister for hazardous waste, claimed the issue of waste management on the Citarum River fell outside of his responsibility and said to seek comment from M.R. Karliansyah, Deputy Minister of Pollution Control. M.R. Karliansyah's office claimed the subject matter also fell outside of his remit and said to speak to Rasio Ridho Sani. Four other Indonesian officials repeatedly contacted for comment did not respond by the time of publication.” /~\

Newmount Gold Mine in Buyit Bay, Sulawesi

The Minahasa gold mine near Buyit Bay on the northern tip of Sulawesi is owned by Newmount Mining Corporation, one of the world’s largest gold mining company. The mine was opened in the 1980s when Suharto was in power and was offering favorable terms to foreign companies. Due to low costs and the high grade of the ore, the mine has been very profitable. In the late 1990s it produced 25 percent of Newmount’s output. The mining stopped in 2001 and processing mined ore continued until 2004. The mine was closed in 2005.

Local people around the mine have developed strange rashes and large lumps on their bodies and tongues and given birth to malformed babies which have been blamed on waste, containing arsenic and mercury, dumped by the mine. They also complain fish have disappeared in waters around the mine. The mine piped its waste directly into the ocean, a practice effectively banned in the United States, that causes the water to warm and drive away fish, which local people rely on for food and money.

In August 2004, an Indonesian government panel announced that Newmont “had illegally disposed” of waste with arsenic and mercury in the ocean near the mine and could face criminal charges. The company was also sued for $543 million by environmental groups on the behalf of sick villagers. The lumps and rashes and other illnesses are believed to have been caused by arsenic from the mine that found its way into ocean sediments consumed by worms, with the arsenic working it way up through the food chain to fish people ate. Newmount also owns a much bigger copper and gold mine on the island of Sumbawa. It has also dumped waste from this mine into the ocean.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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