Revealing the True Value of Indonesian River

Indonesia is dubbed the world’s second-largest marine polluter, only left behind China as the largest producer of plastic waste (Satria, Arif, IPB University, 2018). Of course, this is not the race that we are eager to win. The government of Indonesia possesses a positive spirit to reduce 70% of the plastic waste by 2025. In 2018, President Joko Widodo established Presidential Decree Number 83 about the National Plan of Action in combating the Marine Debris 2018-2025. In the same year period, joint research from Waste4Change and Dutch researchers found that 20,000 macro plastic, plastics in size more than 5 millimeters, flowing into the ocean through a river in Jakarta for every hour. This research also reveals the fact that the total weight of plastic waste from all rivers in Jakarta is 2.1 million kilograms (Van Emmerick, Tim, 2020), or equivalent to 42,000 times of golden crown in our National Monument, Monas. This is a challenge for all of us to have a cleaner river and ocean. 

Another interesting finding of this research is that plastic bags and food wrappings were the most items found in the river. It can be assumed that people directly dumped their households waste into the river. This fact further shows that many Indonesian people still do not value the river as it is valuable for their life. Therefore, the NPOA (National Plan of Action) should also concern about how to increase people’s awareness and how to educate them about the real value of our rivers. 

Ecosystem Service as the Means to Increase Awareness

For several thousand years, river landscapes have provided services for human well-being and other species. They serve us by providing water for drinking, cooling, and irrigation. They also shelter fish as food supply or for recreational fishing. In many regions, river landscapes are built as areas for flood protection. Moreover, they can have a cultural and esthetic value which can reduce stress. Nevertheless, all of these functions seem to be forgotten as now river, especially in cities, is just like no more than big flowing trash bin. 

One possible way to raise awareness on the importance of the river ecosystem and to consider them more easily within decision-making processes is by utilizing the ecosystem services (ES) concept. This concept refers to the coherence between ecosystems and human well-being (MEA, 2003). In simple words, ES can be described as many different benefits ecosystems provide to people. Understanding the ecosystem service of the rivers not only benefits the residents living near the river bodies but also helps the decision-maker to objectively plan what to do with our river landscape. Excluding river in the landscape planning or carelessly develop river landscapes could be caused by the lack of understanding of the river ecosystem service. The Indonesian government can collaborate with scientists to analyze the value of Indonesian rivers. Some valuation methods can be utilized by our government such as contingent valuation method (CVM) which was used in 13 of the 38 river valuations in Europe and America and choice experiments (CE) used in 14 of the 38 valuations (Bergstrom and Loomis, 2017). Through implementing the river valuation methods, we can value our river objectively. A recent publication by Costanza et al. (2014) gives an update for the global value of Ecosystem Service in 2011 which is around US$125 trillion per year. How about the Indonesian river, how much rupiahs are the value of our rivers per year?   

The True Value of Indonesia River 

Currently, there is no current valuation of our rivers available. However, if we see deeply, our rivers have high potential in providing Ecosystem Service. The most common classification of ES developed in the frame of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2003) and The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity (TEEB, 2008). MEA and TEEB divided ES into four categories which are supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services. Hereby are the four categories of ecosystem service in Indonesian rivers:

  1. Supporting service/Habitat service refers to services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. For instance, an ecosystem can provide nutrient-cycling, soil formation, and primary production which become the crucial component for other services. Every river has nutrient cycling which will maintain the floodplain fertility. This fertility will maintain the biodiversity in the river. TEEB named this service as habitat service since each ecosystem provides different habitats that can be essential for a species’ lifecycle.  In the context of the Indonesian river, our rivers have a role in nutrient cycling and provide everything that an individual plant or animal needs to survive: food; water; and shelter. 
  2. Provisioning service refers to the tangible outputs from the river including food, water, and other resources. Rivers in Indonesia are the place of aquatic organisms and many people use it as food and medicines such as Belida Fish in Musi River, South Sumatera, as the main ingredient for South Sumatera traditional food, pempek.  
  3. Regulating service is a service that ecosystems provide by acting as regulators. For instance, river can maintain of water quality by natural filtration and water treatment. River in Indonesia also can be a buffer of flood flows through flood control infrastructure such as Flood Canals in rivers in Jakarta.
  4. Indonesian rivers provide cultural service such as many non-material benefits that can be obtained by people from ecosystems including aesthetic, spiritual, and psychological benefits. Some rivers provide recreational activity such as river rafting in Asahan River, North Sumatera, kayaking in Mahakam River, Kalimantan, hiking, and fishing.

Rivers in Indonesia has many potentials if they can be managed properly. All parties must begin to realize how crucial the role of the river is to human life. Societies, both living near rivers and the public, must stop littering the river. If the river ecosystem was damaged, societies would feel the negative impacts such as flooding and erosion. The government must also begin to study the potential of rivers in Indonesia. By knowing the value of the rivers, the government will create more appropriate development plans towards the river landscape in our country.

Written by Rio Alfajri


Böck, K., Polt, R., & Schülting, L. (2018). Ecosystem Services in River Landscapes. In Riverine Ecosystem Management (pp. 413-433). Springer, Cham.

Bergstrom, J. C., & Loomis, J. B. (2017). Economic valuation of river restoration: An analysis of the valuation literature and its uses in decision-making. Water Resources and Economics17, 9-19. 

Costanza R, de Groot R, Sutton P, van der Ploeg S, Anderson SJ, Kubiszewski I, Farber S, Kerry Turner R (2014) Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Glob Environ Chang 26 (May):152–158. 

MEA (2003) Ecosystems and human well-being: a framework for assessment. Washington, DC. 

Satria, Arif. 2018. Indonesia is the Second Largest Plastic Waste Contributor in the World. Available at Accessed at 08 July 2020. 

Van Emmerick, Tim. 2020. Research: Indonesia’s Ciliwung among the World’s Most Polluted Rivers. Available at Accessed at 08 July 2020.

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