Sat, 26 Feb 2000

Ministers float among garbage on Ciliwung River

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Settlement and Regional Development Erna Witoelar called on Friday for the active participation of Jakartans and NGOs in solving river problems in the capital.

According to Erna, people could play an active role by suggesting ways to solve river problems, such as flood, garbage and the growing number of people building homes on riverbanks.

"We, for example, must organize the residents who live in those houses. We need a different approach to empower them," she told reporters after a one-hour boat trip on Ciliwung River.

The trip, which started from the Kalibata bridge and ended at the Manggarai floodgate, both in South Jakarta, was also participated in by State Minister of Environment Sonny Keraf, Governor Sutiyoso, several other related officials and some journalists.

There are 13 small and big rivers flowing through the city. Many riverbanks are densely populated and prone to flooding.

According to Erna, the government will not expel those living on riverbanks.

"Instead, we will invite them to discuss their resettlement to more decent homes," she said.

She cited, for example, that riverbank people could be hired to take part in the recycling of garbage found in rivers into useful goods, like construction material.

Erna also challenged environmentalists to cooperate with the city administration and central government to help solve the problems.

"I used to be an NGO activist even though I'm now a minister. I understand the importance of shifting our problem-seeking attitudes to problem-solving ones," she added.

She backed Sutiyoso's plan to build apartments for riverbank residents, saying the government would allocate funds for the project.

"I support the plan as long as the residents agree to it. I will provide a fund to construct apartments," she promised.

Sutiyoso assured the residents that he would not cast them out just so that apartments could be built.

"We will build apartments for the residents as part of the resettlement program. We won't drive them out," he said.

"We need the space along rivers because we have to widen the rivers to an initial width of some 60 to 70 meters," he added.

The dense occupation of riverbanks has narrowed some rivers to 15 meters in width.

"We have to continue the Prokasih (Clean River) project to widen the rivers. One priority is constructing apartments," he added, while admitting that the city administration would not be able to solve the river problems alone as it had many limitations.

"That's why I'm very happy now there are two ministers today to show the central government's willingness to help us," he said.

Sonny also supported the governor's idea to resettle the residents.

"This will create better living conditions for the residents. The question is whether we can work hand-in-hand to make it become a reality," he said.

At least 20 motorized dinghies were provided by the Jakarta Fire Department and the Navy's marine corps for the river journey.

At the beginning of the trip, the group saw lush riverbanks and relatively clean water along the Kalibata and Tebet areas.

The view gradually changed as the participants went further downstream. Both sides of the river were seen to be dense with poorly constructed homes and the river was almost full of garbage.

Sutiyoso said his boat became stuck several times because of the garbage.

"I'm sure I rode a rubber dinghy equipped with the best engine, but still its propeller got stuck in garbage," he said.

Children, as well as grown-ups, happily greeted the boats while others just stared curiously. Some residents, mainly housewives, continued with their activities unbothered by the roaring sound of the engines of the passing boats.

Several women washed dishes from bamboo rafts while others did their laundry. Its scene appears normal to them. One person made use of a floating toilet.

Sutiyoso said he wished Ciliwung River one day could be used as a popular site for tourists.

"We could use the river for tourists to see another view of our city, just like Amsterdam. I'm sure we can reach that stage by working hard together," he said. (nvn)