Citarum River c. 1920-1935, photo by Georg Friedrich Johannes Bley (source: Tropenmuseum)

The Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia is one of the most toxic waterways in the world. The river is choked with industrial pollutants, garbage and sewage – yet some 30 million people depend on its waters. Villagers who live near the Citarum have no choice but to use the toxic river water for bathing and drinking. Though they boil it to kill bacteria before drinking, poisonous heavy metals and chemicals remain.

Scavenging for trash and recyclables has replaced the once plentiful fishing in parts of the river. Furthermore, extensive logging and farming are contributing to flood conditions in near its banks. If that wasn’t bad enough, the corrosive and muddy qualities of the Citarum’s water are damaging the turbines in Java’s largest power generator, a hydroelectric plant.

From a CNN Eco Solutions report:

But it’s not just the factories using the Citarum as a dumping ground; the community effectively uses it as an open sewer. As we walk through the village, children squat over canals and defecate directly into the water. Any garbage is thrown in the waterway or dumped on the side of the riverbank.

CNN – Indonesia’s dirty river

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is investing $500 million over the next 15 years in a project to clean up the Citarum and help its dependent communities.
Flooding of the river is currently affecting some 30,000 people in Karawang – west of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta – according to an article in the Jakarta Post.

For more information, check out this Al Jazeera English report on the crisis of untreated industrial effluent, domestic waste and soil erosion in and around the Citarum:

Al Jazeera English – Indonesia’s river or rubbish

Additional resources:

Guardian (pictures) – Pollution in the Citarum river, Indonesia

Lead image source: