Citarum River in Indonesia is the world’s most polluted river.

Citarum River in Indonesia is the world’s most polluted river.

One must recognize the environmental impact of the entire supply chain, capturing all the steps between plantation and disposal. More than 90 per cent of our clothing comes from Asia – and causes huge environmental damage there. Because the textile industry poisons rivers and drinking water. The Citarum River in Indonesia is the world’s most polluted river mainly caused by the fashion industry. The DW Documentary (January 2020) gives you knowledge beyond the headlines about the world’s most polluted river. It is a sad example of how environment versus profit is a battle of David against Goliath.

Citarum is the longest river in West Java province, around 297 kilometres, and disembogues into the Java sea. Toxic pollution flows freely in the river and around 5 million people live in the river’s basin, and most of them rely on its flow for their water supply. This heavy pollution of river water by industrial waste is threatening the health of these millions of people not only living on the riverbanks but also to its whole popula­tion of Indonesia topping 260 million.

Photo by MD Duran on

For the past four decades, Indonesia’s lax pollution controls have allowed industries to discharge toxic waste into the Citarum with near impunity. West Java’s inadequate waste-disposal infrastructure has made the river the de facto dumpsite for its residents. Access to cheap and plentiful water has been key to the area’s rapid growth since the 1990s: processes such as textile bleaching, and colouring consume large amounts of the natural resource. According to recent data from the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, some 2,800 factories now rely on the Citarum, the longest river in West Java, for their supply and for the disposal of wastewater.

Made in Indonesia.

By law, such factories are required to clean up their wastewater before flushing it back into the river, but as the documentary shows there is minimal enforcement, coupled with widespread false reporting and bribery. Facilities continue to dump toxic and hazardous chemicals into the Citarum River. Decades of neglect and mismanagement have turned the waterway into a toxic swamp. As a result, Citarum today is called the dirtiest river in the world.

Few of the attempts made to manage the river’s eco­system over the years have worked. Unfortunately, the efforts that have so far been done are yet to be effective as it was unable to address the root of the problems. 3.236 textile industries are operating at the riverbanks of Citarum. According to West Java’s Environmental Agency, around 90% of them do not have a proper wastewater treatment plant. As a result, as much as 340.000 tons of liquid waste is still disposed of into the Citarum River every day. 

At the beginning of 2019, the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo has launched a seven-year clean-up campaign for the Citarum River. But, government action has its weaknesses and is undermined in many areas by fraud and corruption. If the government puts too string restriction on wastewater standards, the Indonesian economy ist worried investors or textile industry buyers won’t come to Indonesia anymore. But if there a not standards for wastewater parameters, the industry sacrifice it’s people’s health with highly contaminated water.

To meet global demand, textile production in Indonesia is expected to increase by 75% by 2030. Major clothing brands can no longer look away. Too many victims are paying a heavy price.

But there is also a glimmer of hope for improvement. At the end of the documentary, a textile factory is introduced as an example of just such a change, which respects the environment and the health of the inhabitants. It has received an international eco-label for very high standards. Wastewater is cleaned with twelve treatments so intensively that it almost has a standard of drinking water again. Fabrics from this factory are 10% more expensive than its Indonesian competitors. But still, his environmentally friendly quality and socially responsible way of working will provide a competitive advantage for such progressive sustainable companies in the future.

After the interviews and filming of the documentary were completed, the Indonesian government announced on a historical cleanup for the Citarum River and promised the river’s water will be drinkable again by 2025.

Please watch the documentary here:

Cover Photo by pisauikan on Unsplash

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