Ninety percent of factories in the village of Majalaya in the Citarum River area in West Java, Indonesia, lack efficient wastewater treatment systems, according to an August 28 report run by the French-language daily Le Temps. The Swiss paper branded the Citarum as the dirtiest river in the world.
The Majalaya factories dump at least 1,320 liters or 280 tons of waste into the river and its tributaries every day, the paper said, citing the West Java Environment Protection Agency.
The river water runs red, green or blue, depending on the dye released by local textile factories.
Various heavy metals have also been found in Citarum River water, including lead, zinc, chrome and mercury.
A study conducted a few years back by a private laboratory found that the level of mercury in the Citarum’s water was 100 times the legal amount, Le Temps said.
In addition, residents have been forced to use well water for bathing and food preparation.
“Impromptu” toilets are dotted along the river’s banks and so many plastic bags clog the river that in some places the surface is not even visible. Villagers have nowhere else to throw their waste.
For the past three years, the Asian Development Bank has been trying to clean up the Citarum River, helped by local organizations. The bank has invested $500 million USD in the campaign. Few Indonesians believe that the dirty river will ever be purified, however.
Poor sanitation and hygiene yearly trigger 50,000 deaths in Indonesia. Over six million tons of human waste are discharged into inland water bodies, according to the World Bank.
Some observers say it may be impossible to return the Citarum to the condition it was in before it became polluted.
Fifteen million Indonesians live beside the Citarum and 25 million people use its water. The river provides 80 percent of the Indonesian capital Jakarta’s water supply.