Not Just A Story of Ciliwung Guardians from Three Corners

Arsito Hidayatullah
View of part of River Ciliwung near the base of Mat Peci community in Jagakarsa, Jakarta. []
View of part of River Ciliwung near the base of Mat Peci community in Jagakarsa, Jakarta. [] - Usman's memories as a child seemed to revolve around him when he started the story about the Ciliwung River. The river that flows from Bogor and empties into Jakarta Bay is where Usman Firdaus played as a child. There, he laughed and shared jokes with his peers. Fish and shrimp were hunted every day.

However, Usman's expression suddenly changed. His laughter faded. The place that used to be a source of joy has now changed its appearance. The fish that used to swim freely disappeared. Everything changed to piles of rubbish on the right and left banks of the river. The water, which was once clear, slowly changed color to a more brownish black.

This shadow continued to haunt Usman, dozens of years ago. The voice in his heart kept asking: is it possible for Ciliwung to return to the way it was before?

As an illustration, a study entitled "Riverine plastic emissions from Jakarta into the ocean" in 2018 showed that the Ciliwung River was on the list of the most polluted rivers in the world.

Research involving scientists from Indonesia and the Netherlands and in collaboration with Waste4Change, found that samples taken from the Ciliwung River experienced higher levels of pollution than at least 20 rivers in Europe and Southeast Asia.

This river, which stretches for 120 kilometers, is not only a silent witness to human life, but also flows side by side with settlements, industry, and agricultural land and plantations.

This series of lives does not go without consequences. Activities in residential areas, such as cooking, washing and using toilets, also contribute to the production of waste which ends up stranded in the Ciliwung River.

This situation made Usman realized that it was impossible to bring back memories of Ciliwung like when he was a child alone. The rubbish that fills Ciliwung every day has been almost difficult to contain.

A series of events that flashed through his head made the white-haired man initiated the Ciliwung Lovers Society movement, 17 years ago. The community located in Cikoko Village, Pancar District, South Jakarta is now better known as Mat Peci --an abbreviation of its Indonesian name: Masyarakat Peduli Ciliwung.

A name board of one of the activity units managed by Mat Peci or the Ciliwung Lovers Society, on the Ciliwung riverbank in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta. []
A name board of one of the activity units managed by Mat Peci or the Ciliwung Lovers Society, on the Ciliwung riverbank in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta. []


Usman started moving with four other friends. A simple Saung located in the Cikoko Pancoran area, is a place where Usman been spreading his wild ideas. The idea is simple; to invite people to be more independent in protecting and preserving the environment. There are four approaches used by Usman, starting from environmental, educational, empowerment, and spiritual approaches.

"The river is something that needs to be looked after, which is sacred and needs to be protected. The environment is something that needs to be protected, so we raise their concern from a spiritual perspective," said Usman.

Like a virus, this caring movement is contagious. Usman's wild ideas have now spread to more than 160 Mat Peci members and more than 500 volunteers who take the time to contribute.

Abandoned land that was originally filled with piles of rubbish is now starting to change. Various types of trees and plants grow all around. The beautiful aroma typical of leaves now spreads around the hut. All of this clearly wasn't done overnight. The growing movement also does not mean it is without obstacles.

Usman's tone changed again when he talked about the challenges experienced by Mat Peci. His voice was a little quieter. Usman began to tell the story that once upon a time, Mat Peci had even been raided by local community organizations. It all started because mass organizations were worried that Mat Peci wanted to annex the land.

"Physical and non-physical intimidation, we have all felt it," said Usman.

Usman was not afraid. He collaborated with regional policy makers and community leaders. Slowly the "virus" of Mat Peci's concern spread. The movement increases. The impact of the work that Mat Peci has done is also starting to be seen. Recently, the hearts of a number of mass organizations softened. Groups that previously strongly opposed it have now even stepped in to guard the Ciliwung area.

In fact, now Mat Peci also has guided entrepreneurial activities in the Jagakarsa area. They implement environmentally friendly wastewater treatment. This entrepreneur applies green marketing with an assertive approach at the production and marketing stages. The assertive approach is a technique for training individual courage in expressing the expected behaviors. This approach makes Mat Peci's MSMEs become pioneers of environmentally friendly producers.

In the southern area of Jakarta, also met Trisna. He is the Deputy Chair of the Depok Ciliwung Community or KCD. We met him right under the Grand Depok City bridge, West Java. Under the bridge, which is usually a home for bats and rodents, has now become a place to share ideas for the environmental care movement that was founded 14 years ago.

It all started when the Ciliwung River border was completely cleared by developers in the Depok area, West Java. The riverbanks also narrowed. Nearby trees fell and died. Triggering landslides and polluting the Ciliwung River. The well, which has been a source of water for residents, is also dry. This anxiety is what made Taufik, the initiator of the Depok Ciliwung Community, mobilize the masses to protest against the developer.

Several protest was then organized. An objection lawsuit was also filed against the developer. Advocacy was successful, and the movement grew in size. These small victories ultimately made Taufik initiate various activities, so that the Depok Ciliwung Community was established as a sustainable movement.

A boat and some tools at the headquarter of Ciliwung Depok Community (KCD) in Depok, West Java, near the river. []
A boat and some tools at the headquarter of Ciliwung Depok Community (KCD) in Depok, West Java, near the river. []


Members of this community consist of various individuals who are voluntarily involved in saving the Ciliwung River from damage. They come from various professional backgrounds, including students, housewives, workers and consultants.

In its advocacy, the Depok Ciliwung Community involves residents not to throw rubbish into the river, to treat it as an environmental education area, and to make it a conservation area.

Not only that, for them the Ciliwung River is also a natural library to enrich their knowledge about biodiversity and the history of Parahyangan.

Trisna also said that in various educational activities they also carried out Ecobricks, Biotilik, interpretation of the Ciliwung River, conservation camps, conservation classes, and school visits. This is an effort to introduce river biodiversity and local wisdom values.

Trisna revealed that they are also involved in maintaining landslide-prone areas and river banks, environmental campaigns, monitoring fauna and flora, and cultivating native river vegetation. Collaboration with other institutions is also being increased to strengthen this conservation program.

"Because we cannot possibly care for and protect the river alone. Therefore, we need participation from other stakeholders to help us here," he said.

Social capital is the glue between members and stakeholders in the Depok Ciliwung Community. This is also what helps them revive their movement and existence as a community in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the sound of trains passing by was in the background, when met Peni Susanti at her office in the Penjernihan area, Central Jakarta. Peni is the founder of the Clean Ciliwung Movement or GCB. Strands of white hair on her head indicate that she is no longer young. However, the wrinkled skin on her face was unable to capture the enthusiasm within her to care for the Ciliwung River.

Peni's struggle began in 1985, when she was still Head of the Drinking Water Sub-Section at the DKI Jakarta Population and Environment Bureau (BKLH). At that time, the Ciliwung River water looked murky and unfit for consumption. This condition prompted her to initiate the Clean River Program (Prokasih).

Prokasih not only involves the central government, but also regional governments, NGOs, universities and the private sector. High enthusiasm from various parties has made GCB grow rapidly, with 17 universities joining in a joint effort to clean the Ciliwung River.

Peni Susanti, Chair of the Clean Ciliwung Movement (GCB) at her activity headquarter. []
Peni Susanti, Chair of the Clean Ciliwung Movement (GCB) at her activity headquarter. []


However, her involvement was stopped when Peni was assigned to lead the Agriculture and Forestry Service, and then the DKI Jakarta Energy and Mining Service. When she retired, Peni became active again in "saving" the Ciliwung River. At that time, Peni was directly appointed by Erna Witoelar as Chair of the Clean Ciliwung Movement.

However, the situation in Ciliwung has not changed much and is not getting better. The condition is even worse. GCB then initiated the formation of the Ciliwung Care Community (KPC), involving communities from upstream to downstream to clean the river.

Through hard work with the community, the condition of the Ciliwung River is starting to improve. Various types of fish and animals began to return to rivers that were originally polluted. In 2009, the Ciliwung River water even reached class 2, indicating a significant improvement in quality.

GCB also succeeded in building an office on the river bank as an activity center. Despite experiencing difficulties, especially in terms of funding to pay employees, Peni remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting the Ciliwung River.

Every month, GCB has programs that are carried out to raise concerns about the Ciliwung River. Its simple office is often packed with volunteers, students and members of the public who want to contribute.

GCB's activeness in fighting for the preservation of the Ciliwung River has been recognized with various achievements, including the Kalpataru award from the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Peni dreams big for GCB, wanting to make their office an educational center, park and beautiful river tourist spot.

However, to make all this happen, Peni needs support from various parties, especially the younger generation. She hopes that they will care more about environmental issues, including the Ciliwung River, and be actively involved in efforts to preserve it.

Peni emphasized that efforts to preserve this river cannot be done alone. Involvement and support from all parties, especially the younger generation, is very necessary to maintain the sustainability of the Ciliwung River as a valuable environmental asset for Jakarta and Indonesia.



This story is produced as part of an environment reporting collaboration project themed "Water Access in Megacities" involving (Indonesia), PumaPodcast (the Philippines), and Macaranga (Malaysia), supported by the International Media Support (IMS).

Suara's reporting team: Bimo, Fajar, Lilis, Fakhri, Hyoga, Iqbal (intern)

Tag # ciliwung river # conservation # ciliwung # mat peci # community # river preservation

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