Indonesia (again) vows to clean world’s most polluted river (video)

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If everything goes according to plan 2025 is set to be a big year environmentally for Indonesia, which carries the unwanted title as home to one the world’s most polluted rivers, in addition to being the world’s second largest source of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

In February last year Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia Minister of Environment and Forestry, committed the country to cutting the nine million tons of plastic waste it generates each year by 70 per cent, while late last month Indonesia President Joko Widodo said that water in the Citarum River will be drinkable also by then.

Winding 300 kilometres (about 190 miles) from its starting point at the foot of mountain ranges in southern Java to the Java Sea at Ujung Karawang in West Java, the Citarum River is the island of Java’s third longest, powering three hydroelectric power plants on its journey. Some five million people are said to live in the Citarum River basin. More than 2,000 industries sit along its route — including thousands of textile factories — who pump an endless supply of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, in addition to other toxins into it daily.

Worryingly, some 48,000 hectares of rice paddy draw water from the Citarum River for crop irrigation, making it one of Indonesia’s highest producing areas, while the bountiful water supply also makes it ideal for fish farming. However, research conducted by the Blacksmith Institute in 2013 found lead levels in the Citarum River more than 1,000 times above US standards for drinking water, with aluminium, manganese, and iron also above US recommended levels.

In The World’s Dirtiest River, part of  Unreported World’s’ “classic reports”, documentary maker Seyi Rhodes takes a water-level look at the Indonesia’s river of shame and the effect it is having on some of the 38 million people said to rely on the Citarum River for their water supply.

The documentary looks at the habit of Indonesia’s to dump their trash on the banks of rivers, and also talks to textile workers who report their employer’s waiting until the middle of the night to dump their toxic, colourful waste into the river… despite regulations prohibiting the practice and the source of such dumping readily traceable.

Water samples taken during the documentary by an independent scientist all returned heavy metal samples well in excess of same permissible levels.

A local activist interviewed in the documentary says they’ve heard promises such as this before. She says previously they were told that they would be able to drink from the Citarum River by 2015, now three years after the original deadline has passed the Indonesian government says it needs seven more years.

President Joko Widodo has urged stakeholders and officials to work as a team to transform the Citarum River from the country’s national shame into one of its greatest environmental achievements. Hundreds of soldiers were recently deployed to collect and burn garbage as part of the programme, supported by more than ten government ministries, local government organisations, community groups, and the police.

Plastic trash in the sea off Bali, Indonesia filmed by British diver Rich Horner
Video Guardian News

A video released last week by British diver Rich Horner highlights how bad Indonesia’s polluting problem is, exposing a vast undersea wasteland of plastic trash at Manta Point, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Bali’s main island.

A plastic bag excise tax is due to come into effect in July, with tariffs on recycled plastics set lower than those of non-recyclable plastics, while in 2016 supermarkets and retailers began charging customers up to Rp5,000 ($0.36) for each plastic bag.

Whether the President’s and the Minister of Environment’s goals will be achieved are yet to be seen.

In the meantime the people along the world’s most polluted river will continue ingesting, bathing, and washing in the toxic by-products, often produced by themself at the companies they work for, while divers will continue the  unenviable treat of swimming with plastic trash where whale sharks and manta rays were the attraction.



Feature video  Unreported World




  • Indonesia scrubbing the ‘world’s dirtiest river’ (AFP News Agency)
  • The toxic river should be clean enough to drink in 7 years: Jokowi (Tech2)
  • Indonesia aims to banish toxic waste from lifeline Citarum River (The Japan Times)



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Stella-maris Ewudolu

Journalist at AEC News Today

Stella-maris graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, Education from Ebonyi State University, Nigeria in 2005.

Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.

She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.

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