Thu, 30 Aug 2001

Most wells polluted by human waste

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim has acknowledged he can do nothing but hope for an economic miracle in order to deal with the domestic waste that has polluted most wells in the city.

Nabiel said that Jakarta's 10 million people discharge an estimated 3,000 tons of human waste every day. The residents mainly rely on septic tanks, which often eventually leak.

The government is just too broke to build a more reliable western-style integrated sewerage system at present. "Our only hope is that the economy booms and we have the money to build a sewerage system," he said in an interview with The Jakarta Post.

According to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), water pollution as a result of domestic waste is so serious that up to 19 of every 20 shallow wells (40 meters or less deep) are polluted. The leaking septic tanks spread E. coli bacteria, which can cause gastric diseases such as dysentery.

Domestic waste is only one of the serious pollutants which make groundwater in Jakarta increasingly dangerous to consume. Poisonous industrial waste dumped untreated into ditches and rivers is by far more dangerous.

Seawater intrusion due to the uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater is also becoming a threat to the environment in Jakarta.

According to Ahmad Safrudin, chief executive of Walhi's Jakarta office, the brackish water has been seeping as far as five kilometers into the land. Shallow wells in areas like Cempaka Putih, Kemayoran, the elite Menteng and Monas (National Monument) areas are no longer potable.

The reason, Ahmad said, is the cutting of mangroves which help block the intrusion of seawater into the land and the unchecked use of groundwater by office blocks, hotels and industrial complexes in the city.

They use powerful pumps that can extract water from up to 200 meters below the ground. The massive exploitation of groundwater allows water from the sea to enter in place of the fresh water.

The over-exploitation of groundwater in Jakarta has largely been blamed on the inadequate supply of fresh water by the state- owned water company PDAM and the slack government control of deep wells.

Ahmad said many companies did have licenses for their deep well pumps but had installed more than the number they registered with the government.

"They obtain a permit to have one pump but in practice they may install three or even four of them," Ahmad said.

Nabiel acknowledged that the massive use of groundwater by industries, hotels and office blocks was not easy to control because the machines can be easily hidden.

He told of an industrial complex which placed the high-powered pump underground, just below the manager's office.

Equally worrying is the dumping of toxic waste by industry. Walhi notes that poor law enforcement has given rise to the widespread dumping of industrial waste.

Offending companies include those which have received ISO certification for their environmentally sound practices, according to Walhi. The ISO certified company entrusts its waste to a small-scale company which does not have the facilities or technology to treat the waste correctly.

In many places like Cibubur, Bekasi, Cengkareng and Cimanggis -- all in Greater Jakarta -- the poorly equipped company dumps the poisonous waste in the open.

"Until we have an effective government, these dangerous practices will continue," Ahmad said. (pan/bby)