ADB Gives Indonesia $500 Million to Clean Up World's Dirtiest River


Nancy-Amelia Collins

The Asian Development Bank has approved a $500 million loan to Indonesia to clean up the nation's Citarum River, often called the worlds most polluted. But activists worry the loan does not have enough safeguards in place to stop corrupt practices.

The ADB agreed Friday to support Indonesia's efforts to clean up its most important river, the Citarum, through a $500 million multi-tranche loan, which will run for 15 years.

The loan will support the government's $3.5 billion plan to clean up the river, which has become a dumping ground of untreated waste from some 2,000 factories, millions of homes, and a health hazard for the 28 million people who depend on it.

The Citarum river basin delivers 20 percent of Indonesia's gross domestic product and provides 80 percent of the surface water supply to the 12 million people living in the capital

Integrated approach planned for river clean-up

ADB senior water resources engineer Christopher Morris says cleaning up the river will require an integrated approach.

"Cleaning up the river is a mix of approaches in an integrated way. We're looking at working with villages and communities in terms of the environment - waste being thrown into the river," he said. "Working with industry, the private sector, putting in place more environmental controls, establishing relationships between industry and water management and the communities of the basin."

Environmental group says preventing corruption is key

But Dadang Sudarjam from the People's Alliance for Citarum, a local non-government organization, says there are not enough safeguards in place to prevent corruption or enough information given to the people who live along the river.

"We really want to make sure that this loan gets to the target, so we would like to see if the money goes to the right programs," said Dadang. "The people there - there's no clue about what is the big, dramatic program for them to understand. What we have is just a very small document and in English. So it's very hard to advocate to the people about this program."

The ADB's Morris says corruption can be prevented through the multi-tranche loan scheme, which will lend the money through a number of smaller disbursements over the next 15 years.

"In terms of both the government and the ADB safeguards and policies including good governance, it allows us to ensure that we have the programs in place, the institutions set up right, modalities for implementing, so that it minimizes opportunities for inefficiencies," said Morris.

The river stretches from Bandung, in West Java, to Jakarta, around 160 kilometers to the northwest.

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