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Plans to clean up the filthy Citarum disrupted by Covid

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Plans to rehabilitate the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia’s dirtiest river, continue despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. AFP

Plans to clean up the filthy Citarum disrupted by Covid

Projects to rehabilitate the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia’s dirtiest river, continue despite disruptions caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Stretching 270km, the Citarum supplies water to households and industries in West Java and Jakarta. It is also the source of power for three hydroelectric plants that can generate a combined 1,400MW of electricity.

Despite being crucial to at least 27 million people in the two provinces, the Citarum earned the status of being the most polluted river in the country for its alarming levels of toxic chemicals due to industrial and household waste being dumped into it for a long time.

Responding to the ever-growing pollution of the river, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo established a restoration campaign called the Citarum Harum in 2018.

The campaign, led by the West Java governor, involves the central government, local administrations, the police and even the military.

It aims to control and mitigate pollution and environmental degradation in Citarum watershed areas to restore them to their original function. It has a seven-year time frame with the target of improving the river’s water quality by 2025.

The campaign lists up to 13 programmes, including river basin rehabilitation, waste processing, law enforcement and education for people living along the river.

West Java secretary Setiawan Wangsaatmadja said that almost all of the programmes were either underway or ready to be rolled out when Covid-19 spread to the country in March.

The virus crisis has since forced West Java to reallocate most of its regional budgets to fund the Covid-19 response, leaving the Citarum projects with shoestring budgets and putting most of them on hold.

Setiawan told The Jakarta Post: “Our action plans were made before Covid-19. Whether we wanted it or not we had to review them.”

He said that of the planned 5.6 trillion rupiah ($380 million) budget for the Citarum rehabilitation this year, only around seven to 10 per cent of the money was left for the programmes.

Preliminary data show that the Citarum’s water quality has slightly improved due to reduced factory activity during the pandemic and the rainy weather, and, therefore, West Java was determined to continue any feasible rehabilitation programmes during the pandemic, Setiawan said.

Companies polluting the Citarum may face out-of-court administrative penalties from the West Java authorities – from warnings to sealing of facilities and suspension of operations – and lawsuits at court.

The West Java administration has so far imposed sanctions on at least 210 companies polluting the river, from a total of 468 companies on the 2019 watch list, Setiawan said.

Earlier this month, a team from the Citarum Harum project inspected a section of the river from Walahar to Klari in West Java’s Karawang regency, following reports that the water had been black and emitting a strong odour, and that fish had died due to the pollution.

The central government, through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, has taken several companies to court for allegedly polluting the river, most recently PT How Are You Indonesia (HAYI), a company based in Cimahi, West Java.

In February, the North Jakarta District Court found HAYI guilty of polluting the environment, ordering the company to pay 12 billion rupiah in environmental damages.

“Neither side [the ministry nor HAYI] filed an appeal and the company is willing to pay compensation for the damages in instalments,” the ministry’s director for dispute settlement Jasmin Ragil told the Post.



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