Is this the world's most polluted river?

5th June 2007
Daily Mail

With a population of 223 million, Indonesia is the world's 4th-largest nation after China, India and the United States. It's also the world's largest Muslim nation.

Its huge capital, Jakarta, has a population of 9 million

It was once a gently flowing river, where fishermen cast their nets, sea birds came to feed and natural beauty left visitors spellbound.

Villagers collected water for their simple homes and rice paddies thrived on its irrigation channels.

Today, the Citarum is a river in crisis, choked by the domestic waste of nine million people and thick with the cast-off from hundreds of factories.

So dense is the carpet of refuse that the tiny wooden fishing craft which float through it are the only clue to the presence of water.

The river is so dirty and smelly it's reminiscent of the Thames up until the late Victorian Era

Their occupants no longer try to fish. It is more profitable to forage for rubbish they can salvage and trade - plastic bottles, broken chair legs, rubber gloves - risking disease for one or two pounds a week if they are lucky.

On what was United Nations World Environment Day, the Citarum, near the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, displayed the shocking abuse that mankind has subjected it to.

'I said we shouldn't have scrapped weekly collections'

More than 500 factories, many of them producing textiles which require chemical treatment, line the banks of the 200-mile river, the largest waterway in West Java, spewing waste into the water.

On top of the chemicals go all the other kinds of human detritus from the factories and the people who work there.

There is no such luxury as a rubbish collection service here. Nor are there any modern toilet facilities. Everything goes into the river.

The filthy water is sucked into the rice paddies, while families risk their health by collecting it for drinking, cooking and washing.

Twenty years ago, this was a place of beauty, and the river still served its people well.

As one local man, Arifin, recalled: "Our wives did their washing there and our children swam."

Plastic rubbish has clogged up the waterway

Its demise began with rapid industrialisation during the late 1980s. The mighty Citarum soon became a garbage bin for the factories.

And the doomsday effect will spread. It is one of two major rivers that feed Lake Saguling, where the French have built the largest power generator in West Java.

Experts predict that as the river chokes, its volume will decrease and the generator will not function properly.

The area will be plunged into darkness.

But at least the factories will be stilled and their waste will stop flowing.

And perhaps the river will begin to breathe again.