Restoring the River: A Momentum of National River Day

Water is a major determinant of the well-being of the people in Indonesia. Since Indonesia grows, in terms of population and economic, the challenges to provide clean water for living is increasing. The high demand for clean water makes the demand of responsible water resource management is getting intensive. 

As the biggest archipelagic country in the world, there are many water resources in Indonesia, not to mention rivers which flows into the ocean. Geographically, Indonesia has been divided into 131 river basin territories with more than 5,700 rivers, containing many dams, weirs, and canals (ADB, 2016). Thus, it should not be difficult to provide clean water for the whole population. In the previous article, we have learned that these rivers are potentially giving ecosystem services to human well-being.

Unfortunately, triggered by the intense economic growth of past decades and the continuation of population growth and urbanization, Indonesian rivers are facing many issues nowadays. The most urgent issue is the water pollution in the rivers which affect the water quality. In order to understand the river quality, we can refer to the Government Regulation No. 82/2001 dated 14 December 2001. According to the regulation, water quality is divided into 4 classes in which 1st class is the best grade and 4th Class is the least grade. Here are the classes: 

(i) Class I, water that can be used as a water standard for drinking purposes; 

(ii) Class II, water that can be used for water recreation, fresh fish preservation, livestock, irrigation, and other usages requiring the similar quality; 

(iii) Class III, water that can be used as tools/facilities of fresh fish preservation, livestock, water for irrigation, and/or other usages requiring the similar quality to the benefit; and 

(iv) Class IV, water that can be used only for irrigation, and other usages requiring similar quality

A report from Asian Development Bank (ADB) about country water assessment (2016), found that the water quality of rivers in Indonesia is poor. Several parameters were used to assess Indonesian river quality such as biological oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand (COD), fecal coli, and total coliform. An overview of 44 large rivers all over Indonesia shows that only four of them meet the Class II standard all over the year (ADB, 2016). This assessment demonstrated that the aquatic environment in Indonesia is under serious threat. The higher threats especially occur in the highly populated islands where almost all major rivers are heavily polluted. 

As the main island, Java is also the island with the most population. The rapid growth of urbanization to Java island and the scarcity of the land for settlements attract people to live near the river. The implication of the dense settlements near the river is that more household waste is dumped carelessly into the river.

The main rivers of Java include the Citarum and Cimanuk in the west, the Serang and Serayu in central Java, and the Solo and Brantas in the east (ADB, 2016). Almost all of those rivers are now polluted. Even one of them becomes the most polluted river in the world. In the report from the Black Smith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland (2013), Indonesia have received a questionable honor of having one of the top most polluted places in the world which is the Citarum River. 

The costs of polluted river to society are huge such as the decreasing of clean water resources, losing the potential ecosystem services of the rivers, and increasing the risk of catastrophe such as flash floods. Moreover, the polluted rivers are dangerous for the oceans. Some rivers flow directly to the oceans and discharge harmful pollutants, including toxic chemical, household waste, and plastic. As a consequence, the quality of the oceans is getting worse day by day as well.

Several attempts are being made by the government of Indonesia to restore the river such as issuing a Presidential Decree No. 83, 2018 about National Plan of Action dealing with the Marine Debris 2018-2025 and forming a task force for cleaning river likewise Citarum Harum Task Force. However, our government cannot walk alone, we should support the river recovery program. Local governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and civil society should collaborate to implement public education about how to keep our river clean. 

Written by: Rio Alfajri


Asian Development Bank. 2016. Indonesia Country Water Assessment. Accessed at at 20th July 2020

Blacksmith Institute. 2013. THE WORLDS WORST 2013: THE TOP TEN TOXIC THREATS. Accessed at at 20th July 2020

Government Regulation No. 82/2001 dated 14 December 2001

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