Determined to clean up Java’s heavily polluted rivers, environment activists have found that involving their local communities is the best way to attract the government’s attention, and expose polluting companies.
Prigi Arisandi from Ecoton, an environmental NGO that has been cleaning the Brantas river of East Java since 1999, said that his organization tried to involve all members of society in rehabilitating the river.
“We work with religious figures because we realize that all religions use water in their rituals. For example, Muslims take their ablutions before praying, while Catholics and Christians use water for baptizing. The need for clean water is universal,” he said in a recent discussion with other river activists from across Java.
Prigi established a boat tour of the river, taking schoolchildren and tourists to observe the environment and the polluters.
“During the boat ride, people take photos of the factories spilling out liquid waste into the river and emanating gases into the air,” he said.
After taking the boat trip, the people would write articles in newspaper. This, Prigi added, was how his organization’s activities found the spotlight. He tried to increase the public’s awareness of the river by bringing up the issue in the media.
“When the locals learned that the factories polluting the river included a bicycle factory, a rice flour mill factory as well as a pulp and paper factory, they boycotted all of the products. As a result, the factories were embarrassed and then started to treat their waste properly,” he said.
He said that environment activists should approach the companies and encourage them to build their own waste treatment facilities to avoid legal problems in the future.
He added that many companies did not know that they were required to build such facilities because the administration officials would tell the companies to pay them instead.
“One company directors came to me and begged me to discontinue our river campaign, because he felt like a walking ATM with the administration and the police dogging him. I told him to be good, and to build and operate a waste treatment facility,” he said.
He also used data from laboratories and university research papers to draft a citizen law suit to sue the administration for failing to preserve the environment.
“We do not carry out too many researches on the river because there is so much data in the universities’ libraries that we can use,” he said.
While Prigi has employed a multi-pronged approach to clean the river, Hapsoro from Telapak Bogor, a Bogor-based environmental NGO focused on cleaning the Ciliwung River, began cleaning up the river quite literally with his bare hands.
Although many people thought he was out of his mind, some others were moved and followed his lead. With more people joining in, Hapsoro and friends were able to hire a small truck to take the trash they collected to a dump.