Friday, October 15, 2004

Bengawan Solo water unsafe for consumption

Source: The Jakarta Post

Blontank Poer, The Jakarta Post, Surakarta

Experts and officials have warned of serious environmental damage in Surakarta, Central Java, and the six neighboring regencies of Sragen, Boyolali, Klaten, Sukoharjo, Wonogiri and Karanganyar.

Besides decreasing the quality of the soil and depleting water reserves, pollution in the Bengawan Solo River and smaller rivers has made their water unsafe for irrigation or human consumption.

Research conducted last year by the Sragen environmental office found high concentrations of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and copper in rice irrigated with water from the Bengawan Solo River.

Concerned about the environmental damage, officials of local regency and municipal administrations, and members of local legislative councils, met last Monday in Surakarta and agreed to work together to battle the problem.

The meeting, initiated by the Office of the State Minister for the Environment and the Surakarta Environmental Parliament Watch (EPW), discussed various issues.

It ended with an agreement to draw up integrated environmental policies involving local administrations, councils and non-governmental organizations.

"The legislative councils have not been active enough in dealing with environmental issues in their regions. As a result, the extent of the damage has increased, while the public are victims," EPW researcher Agus Dody Sugiartoto told The Jakarta Post.

He said pollution in the Bengawan Solo River was mainly caused by waste dumped into the river by factories located along its banks in Surakarta and Karanganyar regency.

The two regencies are home to dozens of textile factories as well as some 300 other plants that produce chemicals, monosodium glutamate and pesticides, in addition to a number of batik factories that release chlorine and dyes into the river.

Agus Said said the EPW planned to conduct a survey of the water quality in the Bengawan Solo and a number of smaller rivers that run through Surakarta and Karanganyar. The survey will be specifically aimed at identifying all of the types of waste in the rivers.

The results of the survey could be used by Surakarta tap water company, which plans to supply customers with water from the Bengawan Solo.

Forest destruction, including on the slopes of Mount Lawu and Mount Merbabu-Merapi, was also discussed during Monday's meeting, during which councillors acknowledged that Surakarta had no bylaw to stop the environmental damage.

"Almost the whole of Boyolali regency is constantly being hit by drought. Many forests that functioned as water catchment areas have been cleared by residents, but there is no bylaw banning this practice," said Boyolali councillor Anshor Budiono.

Surakarta legislative member Eko Sutopo voiced similar concerns, saying numerous cases of pollution in rivers had not been dealt with properly.

Surakarta environmental office head Handartono admitted said he was powerless to take action against businesspeople whose factories polluted the rivers.

"The level of pollution in Surakarta is very alarming. We cannot do much about it, though, because the relevant agencies have yet to arrive at a similar vision on environmental management," he said.

Deputy environmental minister Arie Djoekardi, who attended the meeting, said his office was only able to encourage regional administrations to draft bylaws to protect the environment.

"Our task is largely to prepare data and support policies by local administrations, so they will establish a cooperation on the environment," he said.