Water flows endlessly. Coolness and serenity surround it—its clear springs flow, becoming a source of human life. Such was the charm of the Citarum River in the past. The Citarum, which stretches along some 300km, is the largest and longest river in West Java province. The river starts flowing at Cisanti on the slopes of Mount Wayang in the South Bandung area, and it flows to the north, past Cianjur, Purwakarta, and Karawang, ending its journey in the Java Sea, precisely at the tip of Karawang. Etymologically, the name Citarum derives from two words: “Ci” and “Tarum”. “Ci” or “cai” means water, while “tarum” is a type of plant typically used as a purple or violet dye for fabric colouring. This plant used to grow along the Citarum River basin.
In the course of the nation’s history, the Citarum River was closely linked with the Tarumanegara Kingdom—one of the oldest Sundanese kingdoms in the archipelago—from the 4th to 8th century AD. According to the Wangsakerta manuscript, the centre of the Tarumanegara Kingdom was located at the mouth of Citarum. The evidence for this is reinforced by the discovery of an enshrinement area in Batujaya in Karawang, West Java. In the heyday of the Tarumanegara Kingdom during the period of King Purnawarman (AD 395 to 434), the infrastructure of the Citarum River area was built and laid out to feed the rice fields and farming industry that help to support the local economy.
During the Indonesian National Revolution, the Citarum River became a witness to history. In addition to being a transportation path through the river for the freedom fighters of Indonesia, it also served as a natural fortress against the enemy. The Citarum, which extends from Tanjungpura (Karawang), Rengasdengklok, to the Java Sea as far as 60km provided a natural fortress against invaders coming from
Jakarta. Along the Citarum River, guard posts and defense bases were built for guerrilla fighters, including at the Wulung Macan Citarum Fort. Not only that, the small town of Rengasdengklok, which was strategically located on the banks of the Citarum River, became an important part of Soekarno- Hatta’s struggle in proclaiming the Independence of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945.
After Indonesia became independent, the Citarum continued to channel its strategic role and function. This river supplies water to the hydro power plant (PLTA) in the Jatiluhur, Saguling, and Cirata reservoirs, electricity from which is used to illuminate Java and Bali. The Citarum also irrigated more than 240,000 hectares of paddy fields in the Karawang, Purwakarta, Subang and, Indramayu districts, known as “rice barns” nationwide. The Citarum also became an irrigation source for about 420,000 hectares of land in Bandung Regency, Bandung City, West Bandung Regency, Cianjur, Purwakarta, Karawang, Subang, and Indramayu. Not only that, the Citarum River was the main supplier of water. For industry as well as raw water to be processed into drinking water for about 15 million of West Java’s citizens and 10 million citizens of the capital city.
However, this nation tends to forget history and the Citarum was irresponsibly used as a disposal site for waste from farming, agriculture, factories, industry, and households. Not surprisingly, from research conducted by the World Bank and Greenpeace International, the Citarum is one of the dirtiest and most-polluted rivers in the world. Water quality in the Citarum is no longer eligible as drinking water because it contains harmful bacteria, as well as chemical and biological oxygen demands that exceed acceptable thresholds. Furthermore, in the upper reaches of the river, the water source area is exploited due to the transition of land functions from forests to annual crops. Everything is uncontrolled, causing very high levels of erosion and sedimentation. Based on satellite images from the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Lapan), in the upper reaches of the Citarum River, from 230,000 hectares of forest, only 5,980 hectares remain, which amounted to 8.6% in 2017.
For almost 30 years, the issues that have plagued the Citarum have not been resolved. Pollution from factory waste and household waste through to sedimentation and erosion are major problems that undermine water quality and the coverage of its stream areas. If the Citarum were human,perhaps she would cry, scream, and be angry for the torture she has suffered.
To answer the problems of the Citarum River that have remained unresolved for decades, President Joko Widodo was quick to respond by issuing Presidential Regulation No. 15 of 2018 on Acceleration of Pollution and Damage Control in the Citarum River Basin. The goal is to implement efforts to save the Citarum River so it can be the cleanest river within the next seven years. The inauguration of the programme was conducted at Kilometre 0 Citarum, Situ Cisanti, Kertasari, Bandung, at the end of February 2018.
President Joko Widodo said that the rehabilitation and revitalisation programme for the Citarum River Basin will be undertaken synergistically and integrated between the Central Government, the West Java Provincial Government, and the local government of the city regency crossed by the Citarum River. President Jokowi also promised to regularly monitor the Pollution and Damage Control Program in the Citarum River Basin.
This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstands, or subscribe here.