The Most Polluted River In The World

Most Polluted River In The World

Coursing Through The Most Polluted River In The World: The Toxic Citarum River

It is a laughing matter to be called a fisherman anymore, to those who live by the banks of, and once depended on fishing in the clear waters of, Indonesia’s Citarum river. Rowing aside piles of garbage so that their boats may steer forward, these, once fishermen, no longer cast their nets in the hope of catching fish. Instead, it is to fish out trash from among the river of garbage, which has some scrap of a value left to it, like glass bottles. Such is the case of one of Indonesia’s primary source of water, the most polluted river in the world, the Citarum river. Where pollution has turned, fishermen into garbagemen.

Did you know that 90% of the oceans pollution comes from just 10 rivers, Citarum being the worst of them all. Check out this article Top 10 Most Polluted Rivers in the World if you are interested in the other 9.

The Birth Of Industrialization & The Decay Of Nature.  

One could say the downfall of Citarum started as, over the course of a decade, hundreds of factories started settling down in Majalaya, located near the river. With over 170 factories, Majalaya turned into the hub of textile industries. There are close to 2000 factories in the vicinity now, and the sad reality is that less than 10% of the factories have an efficient wastewater treatment system.  The water from the river is blue if the factories are manufacturing blue jeans, and the river turns red if the fabrics were red. To learn more, read about the Types Of Water Pollution.

A minimum of 280 tons of wastewater is discharged into the Citarum river every day, from the close to 2000 textile factories in the area.

Although a government regulation does require the factories to treat and recycle the wastewater before discharging it, the law is seldom followed or enforced. The testing of the river water quality, which utterly lacks transparency, is hardly ever carried out. And, even when the results confirm a total lax on behalf of the factories towards the wastewater it releases in the river, no one suffers any legal consequences. It is no surprise then that, how under such circumstances, Citarum went from a pristine river, the source of clean food and water, to the most polluted river in the world, where even the fishes can’t survive, and the waters are black, red and blue.

Crops, Animals & People: The Victims Of A Toxic River

The water condition of the river is such that, one might think that there are not many human settlements nearby or that not many are dependent on it, hence such abandonment. The reality? Over 25 million people depend on the Citarum river for their daily water, electricity and agricultural needs. Its waters feed Indonesia’s largest reservoir, the Jatiluhur reservoir, which has a storage capacity of 3 billion cubic meters. It is responsible for 80% of the capital’s water supply and for irrigating rice fields over 400,000 hectares. But with such critical levels of river pollution, even after six months, the rice ears are empty, and the harvest, poor and delayed.

If one is brave enough to wade through all the trash on the river, there are many long stretches where the water is completely out of sight, submerged beneath the floating waste of plastic, glass, dead animals etc. And where the river, is visible, it is a murky black. Quite understandable though, why over 60% of the fish species in the river have gone extinct since 2008.

Image: the Citarum River: Most Polluted River in the World.

Most Polluted River In The World
Industrial wastewater containing hazardous chemicals discharged into the Cihaur River, a tributary of the Citarum River. The government indicated as responsible the companies PT. Oriental and PT. SMM. Cipeundeuy Village, Kecamatan Padalarang regency.

The toxicity level of the river water, due to the amount of lead present, is an unbelievable 1000 times worse than the drinking water standards in the United States.

As expected, local villagers suffer widespread health consequences as a result of using the water or their daily needs like bathing, drinking, washing vegetables, attending nature’s call etc. The common ailments afflicting the locals ranging from hair fall, skin diseases to diarrhoea.

With The Government, The Promises Come. But Will The Pollution Ever Go?

First, it was the government that helped the factories to strong-arm the locals into accepting a meagre compensation of up to 50,000 rupiahs or about 5$. Such inexcusable behaviour by these industrialists, some of whose factories manufacture goods for big brands like Marks & Spencer!

Over time, as the trash came to light, the different governments that came and went, each made empty promises to clean up the river. It was finally when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the Citarum river and announced the ambitious and much needed 7-year Citarum cleansing project, that some hope has been raised again. The project aims to bring the Citarum water quality up to drinking standards.

Since February this year, the Indonesian army has deployed over 7000 personnel, 300 km along the river, to clean the trash that is choking the river, and to bring back the natural vegetation. The officials believe reforestation, which is essential, will require the planting of 100s of millions of trees and plants in the area surrounding the river. All this will, however, once again, just prove to be blank promises, if the government does not act promptly against businesses and factories violating the environmental regulations.

The Hope Of A Healthy Future

If implemented successfully, the results would also help reduce the floodings, which have tormented Indonesia in the recent past. A cleaner river will eventually improve the agricultural scenario with better yields. With the fishes back, the fishing industry could revive. The people would once again be healthy and ready to make use of the newly revived opportunities. And when the clean waters once again beautify the canals, Riverside business could boom!

But, if there is something to be learnt from the past, it is that governments must always be kept in check. If you want those promises, to actually come true, that is. Share this article with your friends in Indonesia and if you have business harming the environment in your country then let the awareness spread among your country folks too. If you have a similar story, then join the discussion and comment below.

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