River, Stay Away From My Door

Shortsightedness, greed, and the pressures of an expanding population brought about a concentration of pollution in Indonesia’s Citarum River that is unrivaled anywhere else in the world.

The higher cost of fuel in the 1970s forced businesses to cut expenses. Identifying cheaper labor was one avenue for companies to improve their profit and loss statements.

One option was Java, one of the most populous islands in the world – and a region desperately haunted by poverty. The island’s most abundant resource is labor, which is oversupplied and drives down cost. This attracted industry to Indonesia.

Its geography made the Citarum River an easy choice for businesses with export considerations. Unfortunately it was also a convenient vehicle for waste disposal malfeasance, and Indonesia’s historically relaxed enforcement didn’t do much to discourage potential offenders.

For decades the river has been forced to swallow human, industrial, and toxic waste. By the turn of the century improper waste disposal had long been an endemic problem.


Rampak-Kendang, a Javanese drum ensemble music.

People adapt, as they always do. A seller of used bags asserts that the chemicals in the water help to sterilize them before he puts them out in the market. Kids routinely play in the Citarum, enjoying the recreational potential of whatever garbage they find that day. Recyclers extract lots of plastic from the sluggish waters, reselling and recycling their finds for much-needed cash.

Children playing…in the world’s most polluted river.

But the bad economic effects are huge. The filthy, chemically-polluted water is the only option for farm irrigation, which shrinks harvests and ensures that crops grown in farms along the river are sold at a discount, further reducing farmers’ income.

There are actions on river cleanup. The Asian Development Bank is putting a chunk of change into the project:

But anywhere that people live in very tight concentration, there’s going to be waste, and there’s going to be exploitation. Our planetary domination by corporate capitalist forces makes huge masses of ignorant people a good investment.

Meanwhile, those same people live, work, and marry. In which case, they’ll very likely hire one of the thousands of Westernized Javanese wedding bands:

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