Last week on Asia Calling we heard about the desperate state of Indonesia’s Citarum River.
For twenty years, the river has been a dumping ground for domestic and industrial waste, and severely damaged by land-clearing and erosion upstream.
Now the Indonesian government has initiated an ambitious 15-year plan to clean up the river, with the help of a half-billion dollar loan from the Asian Development Bank.
The plan has received mixed responses. Some local NGO’s and activists praise the plan, saying urgent action is needed.
But others say it will only encourage corruption, and negatively affect the lives of poor illegal tenants who will be evicted during the cleanup.
Elise Potaka has this report for Asia Calling.
On the rubbish-lined banks of the Citarum River, makeshift toilets jut out, emptying into the water below.
Factories crowd onto the land around the river, with cropland in between.
At the river’s edge, people fish, bathe and wash clothes in the water, which then goes on to supply the country’s capital, Jakarta.
Cleaning up the Citarum River is no small task. After years of discussion and programs that addressed only small stretches of the 270 km waterway, the government is proposing a new integrated approach.
According to Mudjiaji, Director of the government’s Citarum River Bureau, this will see a whole range of programs run simultaneously.
“One program about conservation, a program about utilization, a program about disaster management, a program about the environment, and then the other, water allocation and also we have the empowerment. Also we have to develop data and information. I think this is a very comprehensive program.”
Mudjiaji says the total amount needed to cleanup the Citarum is 3.3 billion US dollars.
The government has already signed a $500 million dollar loan from the Asian Development Bank to help fund the plan.
Citarum activist Sunardhi Yogantara is cautiously positive.
“I was one who criticised the original plan three years ago, then I was more or less involved in the improvement of the plan until they arrived at the current plan which is very integrated. And I put a lot of hope in it, as one of the affected communities. I am living 50 metres from the Citarum, so if there is a stinky smell I smell it. My neighbor fainted when sometime they smell this hazardous gas out of the river in the dry season.”
But other activists have attacked the plan and the loan.
Ridwan Arifin, from local NGO elKAIL, questions why the government borrowed such a large amount in one hit when the clean-up is scheduled to take 15 years.
“One big problem is the debt – even when we don’t need loans for certain things we borrow money anyway. Why do we do this? Why not borrow money in phases, and only if we need it? It just creates a loophole for corruption. These are big complications that the Citarum programs don’t need.”
Dadang Sudadrja is the coordinator of a group called Friends of Citarum. He says the project has no anti-corruption measures – a big oversight in a country known for bribe taking and graft.
He also takes issue with the resettlement and compensation plan for the many poor people living illegally along the river.
Not all illegal tenants in the downstream Bekasi area are being offered resettlement compensation, he says.
Dadang and other critics say this is contrary to the Asian Development Bank policy, which states that compensation should not be based on a tenant’s legal status.
In its resettlement plan, the government says only legal residents will receive compensation for their land.
Mudjiaji questions why illegal tenants should have the same rights as those who’ve followed the law.
“Not all of the illegal dwellers are poor people, everybody thinks those who are illegal are poor. They have also other houses. The ADB says illegal and legal people (should get the) same treatment. How come? Ilegal’s have become the presidents. Because I’m illegal I have compensation the same with the people, the good citizens.”
Mudjiaji also plays down concerns about the lack of anti-corruption mechanism built into the plan.
“The conditions have already changed in Indonesia, we have the anti-corruption committee. Now it’s become better and better. Everybody’s changed.”
The Citarum cleanup will commence downstream, in a canal, which feeds into Jakarta.
Around 70% of Jakarta’s water comes from the Citarum, and ensuring its quality has become a huge concern.
But this has also drawn criticism.
Nadia Hadad works for the Bank Information Centre, an NGO that monitors ADB projects.
“The dirtiest area is in the upstream area. We don’t understand why they started the project in the downstream area instead of rehabilitating the upstream area first and then going to the downstream. Maybe it’s a political thing because it’s connected to Jakarta and it’s in the interests of the people in Jakarta also.”
The government says the upstream is already being worked on in other programs, and that eventually it will also be targeted under the new integrated management plan.
Speaking with locals along with river, few seem to know about the clean-up plan, or the controversy surrounding it.
What they do know is that the river looks dirty, provides less fish and floods more often than before.