Sat, 09 Oct 1999

Gradual closure of garbage dump urged

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Health Farid A. Moeloek suggested on Friday that the operation of the controversial Bantar Gebang garbage dump in Bekasi be phased out gradually in order to take into account the interests of local scavengers.

Moeloek said an immediate closure would not be a wise decision, because scavengers and their families were wholly dependent on incomes derived from trash taken from the 65-hectare site.

"We have to find a solution that will include the interests of both scavengers and local residents," the minister said at his office.

Since the dump was first opened in 1986, residents have repeatedly complained to the local Bekasi administration about the site. They say the dump has polluted the air, and led to health problems such as respiratory diseases and skin infections.

Tons of trash from the city of Jakarta, as well as from Bekasi are dumped and burned at the site every day.

As a result of the constant pressure from nearby residents, the Jakarta administration -- which owns and runs the dumping site -- agreed to meet the call by Bekasi legislators to close down the site.

The Jakarta authorities plan to build a huge new garbage dump west of the capital at Ciangir, Tangerang. The authorities also said they would allocate some Rp 10 billion from the city budget to compensate the Bantar Gebang area for environmental damage caused by the dump.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso met on Tuesday with the scavengers, who begged him to disregard the request from the Bekasi councilors to close the dump.

Sutiyoso did not retract the city's plan, but he did say that he could understand the grievances of the scavengers.

"It's a complicated matter. It would be difficult to give them jobs should we have to quickly close the dump.

"Our priority (at the moment) is to restore the environmental damages here," the governor said.

Moeloek said he appreciated the growing awareness on the part of local residents about the importance of a healthy environment.

"Pollution is not good ... and prevention is much better than a cure. But we also have to consider those who earn between Rp 5,000 (US 65 cents) and Rp 10,000 per day from the garbage dump," the minister said, referring to the estimated 15,000 scavengers who pick through the Bantar Gebang trash.

"The government should therefore consider providing alternative economic sources for them," he said. (04)