“The Citarum river in 7 years will be the cleanest river.” – says Indonesia’s President.
How Two Brothers Convinced the Indonesian Government to Clean Up the polluted river
Last week, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo said water from the Citarum River should be made drinkable within seven years under a new cleanup project for the Java island river, often ranked among the world’s most polluted. This is the story of how two brothers convinced the Indonesian government to clean up one of the planet’s filthiest rivers.
The videos were watched by hundreds of thousands and reached the Indonesian Government
Brothers Gary and Sam Bencheghib paddled a total of 68km (36 miles) in two weeks on two plastic bottle kayaks from the village of Majalaya, located just south of Bandung to Pantai Bahagia, to the river mouth at the Java Sea. Each kayak was made of 300 plastic bottles to demonstrate that trash can have a second life.
Throughout the expedition, the pair released videos documenting their journey and spotlighting community-based initiatives and individuals who work tirelessly towards restoring the river.
After completing their journey, their videos were watched by hundreds of thousands online and eventually reached the Indonesian Government.
Last Friday in Jakarta, the brothers met with the Director of Waste Management under the Ministry of the Environment (KLHK), R. Sudirman. During this meeting R. Sudirman announced an emergency plan to clean up the Citarum River as a response to their campaign and videos.
For the next 4 months, Sudirman and his team will be surveying the river and creating a road map of the most polluted parts of the river. His goal is to work hand-in- hand with the 13 City Mayors along the Citarum River, the Provincial Head and the Governor of West Java.
“From the moment we stepped foot inside our kayaks, we were completely submerged in trash. At times the water would turn into shades of red, blue and black as a result of the hundreds of textile factories that dump lead, mercury and other chemicals into the river.” — Gary Bencheghib
The industrial and domestic waste prompted environmental groups Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute to name it as one of the world’s 10 most polluted places.
The business of trash in the Citarum Basin
Rolling out education at village level to change entrenched cultural practices, although successful, is only part of the story. Providing local groups with incentives to form businesses that turn trash to cash is equally important, observers say.
ADB (Asian Development Bank) has partnered with local government and the Ministry of Health to support a community initiative that combines both in the village of Karang Linggar in the district of Karawang.
“Now we earn a good income from recycling not only our own rubbish but the huge amount that can be salvaged daily from the rivers around here. I have enough money from it to ensure the family eats better and my two children can now attend school.”— Entus Sutsisna, one of the recyclers.
Some recyclers are doing more than just selling trash fished from the rivers. Indra Darmawan’s Bangkit Bersama recycling company at Bantar Caringin harvests more than 35 tons of trash a month from the heavily soiled river that meanders by his premises. Dealing with the mountains of Styrofoam floating by means innovation is called for.
“I have developed a mixture of dried water hyacinth, natural glue, and Styrofoam that can be flattened out into boards or even turned into bricks for use in construction,” Indra says. He points to a new shed used for sorting trash. Closer examination shows it’s entirely built from the hybrid material. Plans include turning parts of the river bank into an ecotourism destination.
Recycling and education projects are springing up across the region as the central and local authorities partner with communities to promote the economic and health potential of cleaning up Citarum. There’s a long way to go, but the hope is Citarum will become a model of sustainable water management, rather than being home to some of the world’s most polluted rivers.