Jakarta. In Serang, Banten — Java's westernmost province — local fishermen who ply their trade on the Ciujung River have witnessed their catches fall drastically and have in turn developed skin problems, and they think the river is to blame.
Fishermen, farmers and goat herders who live near the river are worried that it has been severely polluted. A lot of them have expressed concerns about the health risks from the river and are hoping to find more accurate information from the government about the river's pollution.
A new report by US-based non-governmental global research organization World Resources Institute (WRI) suggests the community has been prevented from obtaining relevant information about pollution in the river, despite Indonesia already having an extensive set of legislation on citizen’s rights to information, including environmental data.
"Without information, you are not able to participate in decision making or understand whether your water is clean," Carole Excell of the WRI said, as quoted by environmental science and conservation news and information website, Mongabay.
The government prefers to publish water pollution data online, however, many in the community do not even own computers or gadgets to access it, the report said on Wednesday (30/08).
Community Life at Risk From Polluted River
The report found that local communities have been witnessing increasing contamination of the Ciujung River over the last twenty years since pulp and paper and textile mills started setting up operations around the river.
Pollution in the river really picked up pace when a giant pulp company belonging to the conglomerate Sinar Mas Group, Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, opened up a mill in a village near the river.
Haji Maftoh, a local resident, tried to compare the river’s current condition to a time before the mills set up camp along the river:
"Back then we could harvest a lot of shrimps every time we go down to the river, up to 100 kilograms. Now, we can only harvest a kilo. Pollution has changed our life here. We can no longer rely on agriculture to earn a living. The villages of Pontang and Tirtayasa used to contribute a lot of farm products to the Serang district, but now many of us can only find work in the [pulp and paper] mill, or leave the area to become migrant workers," Maftoh told WRI.
WRI's report pointed out the local community has lodged many protests and petitions to local law enforcers and has even brought on a lawsuit to demand that the above companies be held responsible for the river pollution.
The report also urged the government to create a better nationwide system to collect and publish environmental data to prevent people from using contaminated water that could harm their health.
It also recommended that the government release information they have in non-technical formats, create a centralized system to respond to communities’ requests for information and encourage companies to disclose pollution as it happens.