Poor water quality in Indonesia

Climate change, poor urban infrastructure and pollution resulting from rapid urban development and environmental destruction have led to poor water quality in Indonesia.

Although Indonesia enjoys 21 percent of the total freshwater available in the Asia-Pacific region, nearly one out of two Indonesians lack access to safe water, and more than 70 percent of the population rely on potentially contaminated sources.

Poor water quality in Indonesia is directly related to a life of poverty, as poor individuals are unable to afford clean drinking solutions.

To combat poverty and improve the lives of individuals, USAID has partnered with local governments and civil society organizations to weaken the agents of poor water quality in Indonesia by strengthening biodiversity and climate change resilience.

Climate Change

Climate change threatens to disrupt seasonal variations and thus water quality in Indonesia. The dry season may become more arid which would drive water demand, and the rainy season may condense higher precipitation levels into shorter periods, increasing the possibility of heavy flooding while decreasing the ability to capture and store water.

Increased flood conditions and rainfall facilitate the spread of disease in areas where the population lacks access to clean water and sanitation.

USAID works with the Indonesian government to help the most vulnerable areas of Indonesia become more resilient to climate change effects. The agency builds local government and civil society organizational capacity to understand the effects of climate change and to implement climate change solutions in agriculture, water and natural resources management.

More than 13,000 people have been trained in climate change adaptation strategies and disaster risk reduction. As a result, USAID has worked with more than 360 communities to develop action plans addressing the impacts of climate change, which in effect improves the poor water quality in Indonesia.

Environmental Destruction

Environmental destruction associated with unmanaged development and deforestation has left many parts of Indonesia extremely vulnerable to landslides, tsunamis and floods.

An environmental disaster furthers the cycle of poverty in Indonesia as individuals are left with even fewer resources than before. The country has lost around 72 percent of its forest cover over the last 50 years.

Large barren hillside areas and the underlying soils, both subject to heavy precipitation, greatly increase the likelihood and severity of floods. When flooding does occur, urban infrastructure is quickly overwhelmed which leads to sewage spillover and further contamination.

To combat environmental destruction and improve water quality in Indonesia, USAID works to conserve and strengthen biodiversity in Indonesia. The agency does so by building capacity in national and local government bodies and associated civil society actors, and by entering partnerships, to promote and strengthen sustainable land-use practices and management in four provinces.

Projects developed by USAID focus on conserving large swaths of lowland and peat forest with high concentrations of biodiversity.


Indonesia has become a pollution hotspot due to its economic development and rapid urbanization. Waste from commercial and industrial processes is increasingly making its way into both groundwater and surface supplies affecting water quality in Indonesia. Moreover, Indonesia’s urban slums particularly lack wastewater treatment to combat the growing pollution.

The basic sanitation infrastructure necessary to prevent human excrement from contaminating water supplies is virtually nonexistent. Households simply dispose their domestic waste directly to a river body.

Since many Indonesians are poor and have no access to piped water, they use river water for drinking, bathing and washing. Around 53 percent of the population obtains water from sources contaminated by raw sewage, which greatly increases human susceptibility to water-related diseases.

To improve the poor water quality in Indonesia by combating the effects of pollution, USAID has facilitated access to clean water for more than 2 million people and basic sanitation to more than 200,000 people.

These actions have built one more step for individuals in Indonesia to walk out of poverty, as their low income does not inhibit them from enjoying clean drinking water.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Pixabay

World’s Most Polluted City-TBP

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that Delhi, India is the most polluted city in the world. Delhi is home to a large younger population, putting the future health of millions of children at risk.

Children no longer play outside, many preferring the safety of their homes rather than the dusty, polluted outdoors. Even when the searing Indian summer temperatures subside in the evening, children remain indoors.

Adhinav Agarwal, a pediatrician in Vaishali, says that about one-third of his patients suffer from chronic respiratory ailments. This is a direct consequence of the appalling pollution in Delhi.

According to the survey released last year by the WHO, Delhi has “an annual average of 153 micrograms of the most dangerous small particulates, known as PM2.5s, per cubic metre.” To put this information into perspective, Delhi’s level of particulates is six times the WHO’s recommended maximum, 12 times the level of U.S. standards and more than twice the level considered safe by Indian authorities.

Because nothing has been done to lower the level of particulates, there are now fears that millions of children in India will suffer serious health problems later in life. This will cause a domino effect, affecting the future generations of children.

Dr. Guleria, a lung specialist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, voices his concern, “If you look at lung function in children [here], there is significant decline with constant exposure. This will probably be irreversible. For adults, there is also a more rapid decline that usual with age. Some suggest it is the equivalent of smoking around 10 cigarettes per day.”

The severity of health problems depends on the level of exposure. However, many children in India often ride a bike or walk to school along busy roads. While trying to further their education, children are exposed to high doses of toxic chemicals and damaging particulates every day. And even while attending school, children are continually exposed to damaging chemicals and particulates as “Daily levels in schools are four times worse than those that are supposed to trigger alerts in London.”

The pollution in Delhi has been caused by the emergence of modern conveniences. Traffic is very heavy at all times of the day. Families often own more than two cars, increasing the traffic congestion.

But traffic is not the only factor adding to the pollution. Huge landfill rubbish dumps are set on fire. Industries that pump out pollution daily are located just a few miles outside the city. Construction sites generate clouds of dust. And seasonally, crop fields are burned in neighboring states.

Many parents are worried about their children’s health, but they cannot afford to send their children to a boarding school or move out of the city.

Delhi has seen improvement decreasing the pollution, but these efforts have slowed or stopped completely. Health experts urge the government to implement strategies to slow pollution.

Many have only looked at the problem of pollution from an economic standpoint, yet the cost of health has been forgotten. A generation of children is expected to have lasting health problems, and future generations will likely face the same health consequences if nothing is done to improve the air quality.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Vox

In the last leg of their Diamond Jubilee Tour of 2012, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge [Kate Middleton and William Young] made a stop at the island of Tuvalu, joining them in their tribal dances among other activities. Tuvalu is located in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean near Australia, is the second smallest country in the world at only ten square miles in area, and is a country rarely discussed in the media.

Taiwanese eco-artist Vincent Huang will soon be unveiling the very first “floating pavilion” there, a pool crossed by walkways. The symbolism behind this pavilion, based on the rising sea levels and ever-changing climate, offers insight to one of the many geographical challenges that the country has faced, which has led to economic instability. According to Huang: “Tuvalu is the smallest national pavilion but we’re dealing with the biggest global crisis. I believe that most people have never heard about Tuvalu but it’s an iconic victim in terms of climate crisis.”

However, the climate crisis in itself is only part of the problem. Tuvalunans rely heavily on foreign aid in the form of imported food products because of a lack of a fresh water supply and poor soil quality. They find themselves less and less able to purchase the food due to rising prices, falling remittances and loss of jobs. In sum: climate change with rising sea levels, little access to fresh water, soil lacking in nutrients, pollution, and climate change along with an inability to afford the necessary imported food has led to malnutrition.

According to UNICEF Pacific Social Policy Specifist Reiko Yoshihara-Miskelly: “malnutrition, in earlier age, it has a long-lasting effect, given that brain development in early childhood could be crucial for children’s later performance in schools and life.” In fact, 1.6 percent of children under five years old suffer from malnutrition in a nation of only about eleven thousand total in population.

However, UNICEF is working to alleviate this problem not just in Tuvalu, but worldwide through a project entitled The Power of Nutrition. Released on the sixteenth of April, the goal of this project is to access $1 billion through partnerships with philanthropic associations through a trust fund with the World Bank Group for the purpose of child nutrition. Learn more at

– Anna Brailow

Sources: BBC, Daily Mail, Knoema, The Power of Nutrition, Radio Australia, UNICEF
Photo: Mirror

pollution in nigeria
Amnesty International has recently released a report claiming that United Nations Environmental Programme’s 2011 recommendations for pollution cleanup in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria have been ignored.

In 2011, UNEP found that pollution in Nigeria was caused by government negligence and, specifically, by the oil company Shell. UNEP was commissioned by Shell to review the area in an attempt to convince the locals to allow for their return.

Shell left the Ogoniland in 1993 amid a wave of protests. The company has been trying to reconcile with the locals ever since.

However, the UNEP report did not produce findings favorable to Shell, as it stated that people in Ogoniland have “been living with chronic pollution all their lives.”

For example, drinking water was found to have high levels of the known carcinogen benzene, and the amount was 900 hundred times higher than what the World Health Organization considers safe.

The UNEP concluded that it would take 25-30 years to clean up the oil pollution left behind by Shell.

Three years later, yet another watchdog organization is saying that pollution is still a serious problem in Ogoniland.

Amnesty international led a joint report with Friends of The Earth Europe, Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action and Platform to say that “in the three years since UNEP’s study was published, the government of Nigeria and Shell have taken almost no meaningful action to implement its recommendations.”

Recommended measures like emergency water supplies were said to be “erratic” by the locals. Water was infrequent and often smelled bad.

Shell has been slow to decommission much of the equipment they left behind in 1993. This equipment is subject to corrosions, which contributes to further pollution.

There are also continuing oil spills, but Shell blames the government. Shell believes the spills occur because gangs break the pipelines to steal the crude oil, and it is the governments responsibility to deal with this.

Amnesty International and other groups involved in the joint report call for Shell to stop making excuses and take responsibility for the devastation they have brought upon Ogoniland and its people. This situation is far worse than what a brief summary can explain. To see the full report, click here.

Eleni Marino

Sources: Amnesty International, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

desmond d'sa
Desmond D’Sa is the co-founder of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and is one of six 2014 Goldman prize winners for global grassroots environmental advocacy.

The Goldman award is one of the most honored international recognitions for environmental work and comes with the largest monetary reward – a lump sum of $175,000. The first Goldman prize was awarded in 1991 by philanthropists and environmental advocates Richard and Rhoda Goldman as a way to draw attention to the critical nature of international environmental issues. The award recognized ordinary individuals who made outstanding impact.

Many of the families that live and work in South Durban, including D’sa’s family of 13, were forced to migrate during the apartheid era.

“I was 15 and we lived in Cato Manor, the biggest community of mixed folk in South Africa. It was a very radical place in the apartheid era. But mum and dad were brutally forced to move by the army and security forces.”

Now the survivors of that dark period in South Africa’s history, and their children and grandchildren, continue to fight a daily battle against the heavy pollution.

Durban is a coastal industrial city in South Africa, infamous for its terrible air quality and the deteriorated health of its inhabitants, giving it the nickname “cancer alley.” South Durban contains nearly 70 percent of all South Africa’s industrial activity and has over 300 facilities. Oil and gas refineries, chemical plants and paper mills are among the hundreds of industries that pump toxins into the air and into the lungs of the area’s 300,000 residents.

“Leukaemia is 24 times the normal there. My mother was ill for years,” said D’sa. “Eleven of the 12 families in the council block where I live have asthma. In every block you have around 50 percent of people who have respiratory problems. I still look out my window and see refineries. I am a victim as much as anyone. We pay the price.”

Yet instead of acquiescing to his disadvantaged position, D’sa has spent the better part of his life fighting for the community’s health and environmental rights. D’sa work is not attributed to a single initiative or event, but to 20 years of activism involving legal battles, community education, civil rights advocacy and worker representation.

One of D’sa’s most celebrated achievements was implementing a method for gauging the harmful pollutants in the air through smell, for lack of capable scientific equipment. He compared the smells of each chemical in the air to commonly recognized household items, such as the smell of sulfur to rotton eggs, and distributed the Smells That Kill chart throughout the community.

D’sa’s goal was to educate the public so that they could better advocate for their rights. In 1990 the Westman waste management company opened a landfill near residential neighborhoods in South Durban without regard for the community. Their unsafe practices plagued nearby residents for almost two decades until the landfill reached capacity in 2009.

When Westman applied to extend its lease, D’sa took the opportunity to lead a community campaign against the extension and knew their efforts would fare better if the public had a better understanding of what they were up against. When the media caught wind of the foul behavior and citizens knowledgeably pled their case, D’sa’s efforts ended successfully and Westman was denied its lease. The company was eventually ordered to end all operations in November 2011.

Desmond D’sa is an example of human dedication and the power of one’s spirit to help others, even against the odds. Although already a Goldman prize winner and having fought the hard fight for many years, D’sa is only becoming more involved. He remains relentless in his fight against future battles, including the proposal to expand the Durban port to ten times its current capacity, which would bring devastating consequences to surrounding neighborhoods.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Goldman Prize, The Guardian, Climate Reality Project
Photo: The Guardian

China has become infamous due to its high levels of air pollution, but another Asian country has a staggering pollution problem as well: India. According to a study done by the World Health Organization, the Indian capital of New Delhi has the most polluted air in the world. Furthermore, the top four most polluted cities are all located in India, indicating a countrywide problem.

Pollution is monitored by measuring the size of the particulate matter (PM) in a certain concentration per a specific amount of air. In May, the New York Times reported that air pollution was found at 2.5 PM (meaning “particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter”), concentrated at 350 micrograms in one cubic meter of air. The most alarming part is the size of the particulate matter. The New York Times discloses that 2.5 PM “is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs” due to its small size.

Time Magazine reports that air pollution was the “fifth largest killer in India” in 2013. A myriad of respiratory issues, some “unidentified,” were the cause of 600,000 premature deaths. The Indian Journal of Community Medicine outlined some of the medical issues directly associated with pollution in Delhi, and compared the prevalence of those issues with rural communities. Respiratory symptoms all around were 1.7 times higher, upper respiratory symptoms were 1.59 times higher, and lower respiratory symptoms were 1.67 times higher. Rates of asthma were “significantly higher” and overall lung function was diminished.

The list of problems goes on, including headache, eye and skin irritation, increased blood levels of lead, and even a connection to ADHD in children. Schools have been closed on days with especially poor air quality, parents try to keep children indoors as much as possible and physicians discourage outdoor exercise for the elderly.

The Indian Journal of Community Medicine reports that even in 1997, the amount of air pollution was excessive. 3000 metric tons of air pollution was produced by Delhi alone, “with a major contribution from vehicular pollution, followed by coal-based thermal power plants.” The study reported that there were 3.4 million cars on the roads of Delhi in 1997. That number has risen to 7.2 million in 2014.

The problem, while once neglected, can no longer be ignored. The government in Delhi has imposed some measures to decrease the amount of pollution. Various policies calling for less harmful car fuels have been instituted. Different roads and subways have been constructed, with the intention of “smoothing traffic flow.” Drivers are required to obtain a “Pollution Under Control” certificate for their vehicles as well.

Industrial policies exist as well, but their plans are far more vague in a “comprehensive document envisioning higher industrial development in Delhi, with one of its mandates being to develop clean and non-polluting industries.” While these plans are ideal, they do not explicitly call for immediate action.

Researchers call for “existing measures to be strengthened and magnified to a larger scale.” While government policies provide the guidelines, it is up to “participation of the community” to insure that reduction in pollution actually happens. Use of public transportation, continual checking of Pollution Under Control certificates and greater education on reduction measures is suggested.

-Bridget Tobin

Sources: The New York Times, National Center for Biotechnology Information, TIME
Photo: Every Stock Photo

The selfie took the world by storm, spreading like a virus across social media platforms. The term often carries a negative connotation in many contexts, reflecting a sense of heightened narcissism brought on by the digital age.

However, even viral trends like the selfie can be turned around and used for productive and positive reasons.

A new selfie phenomenon is catching on in Tunisia for a very unique reason. It involves citizens taking snapshots of themselves with piles of trash in the background with the fitting title, “trash selfie.”

About two months ago, Tunisians began taking the trash selfie and posting it to Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SelfiePoubella (#trashselfie). The photos are aimed at raising awareness of the excessive garbage and pollution currently plaguing the country.

The revolution in Tunisia left much of the country destroyed and many areas have yet to see proper repair and reform. As the political system works to restore order, public services have fallen behind. People are simply throwing their trash on the streets on top of piles that remain untouched.

Many Tunisian neighborhoods are riddled with rubbish, raising several health concerns. Aside from the smell alone, mosquito infestations and unsanitary conditions raise the risk of disease. Pollution-related diseases, such as asthma, are also increasing in the area.

The government has failed to properly respond to the crisis up until now. Tunisians are taking the trash selfie to social media platforms as a way to galvanize government response. As a result, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa is currently working up a plan and intends to increase funding to the most problematic areas.

The waste treatment crisis is not limited to Tunisia alone, however. Trash in public areas has become a facet of life in much of the Middle East and North Africa region as the result of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2010 as a result of Twitter advocacy. The platform was critical to revolutionary communication throughout the conflict, as the entire world tuned in to a live-tweeted revolution. Social websites and mobile devices served as an effective way to voice the concerns of a people and push for political change.

Countries like Tunisia show the true potential of the Internet for uniting people over a cause they believe in. Middle Easterners have taken up a public voice on social platforms for real and necessary reform, and it seems they will continue to use it this way.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Green Prophet, Global Voices Online, PRI
Photo: Global Voices Online

Most recently, air pollution has become the single greatest health risk in the world, surpassing smoking, car accidents and diabetes combined.

Figures reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that indoor and outdoor air pollution have been linked to a total of seven million deaths, or one in eight deaths, in 2012. Indoor pollution is the result of wood-burning and coal stoves mostly in rural impoverished communities, while outdoor pollution mainly comes from traffic fumes and coal-burning plants.

The majority of deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution occurred in Southeast Asia, which is now known to be the most polluted region in the world. It is estimated that 3.7 million deaths can be attributed to outdoor air pollution, usually as a result of stroke and hearth disease.

4.3 million deaths are attributed to indoor air pollution, many of which were caused by stroke, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. The vast majority of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

These figures demonstrate the detrimental effect of air pollution on mortality and health across the globe. It is a public health issue that needs to be addressed by all countries. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Public Health and the Environment Department, states, “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

It is important to note in Neira’s statement that she refers to “the air we all breathe.” Air pollution is an environmental health concern that has no boundaries; what one country emits has a direct impact on countries that are halfway around the world.

So what can we do to reduce our impact on air pollution?

Rural communities and big cities vary in what they can do to reduce their pollution emissions. But, we can all change our behaviors individually to make a difference.

At the local level, we can work on replacing inefficient coal and biomass stoves used in rural communities with electric stoves that are better for the environment. We can reduce our own carbon footprints by walking and bicycling more, instead of using our cars. Planting more trees has also become one way that people are filtering clean air into their neighborhoods.

At the political level, all countries need to reduce their carbon emissions. They need to create sustainable, urban policies that emphasize sharing resources and reducing our energy usage. Examples of this include green architecture and infrastructure, as well as bans on car usage.

One great example of someone who did this was mayor Enrique Penalosa of Bogota, Colombia. In 1998 he pedestrianized large sections of the city, raised the tax on petrol and forced commuters to leave their cars at home at least two days of the week, while making the bus system more accessible. He said, “Urban transport is a political and not a technical issue. The technical benefits are very simple. The difficult decisions relate to who is going to benefit.”

So, do we have the will to change our behaviors and lobby politicians to do the same?

I think so.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, Treehugger, The Guardian

A port owned by a mining company in northeast Brazil is helping the local economy but polluting the region.

The Ponta da Madeira terminal was established in 1986 by Vale for the shipment of iron ore while simultaneously guaranteeing job stability for young people in Itaqui-Bacanga, an impoverished location in Brazil.

“Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajas, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made vale the world leader in iron ore production,” said Global Issues. “The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.”

However, George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB), said Vale and other companies located around the area brought the wrong type of development into the region.

“We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” said Pereira. He believes that sanitation and education developments are more important for the community.

According to the article, ACIB was ironically created by Vale a decade ago to clean up the Itaqui-Bacanga area. However, Vale’s own creation is being awfully easy on the corporation.

On the other hand, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) calls Vale the worst corporation in the world today.

The organization claims that the mining company is also among the largest producers of raw materials and has reported a profit of $17 billion in 2010.

But a FoEI study also found that Vale failed to help keep the environment clean.

“Despite setting out in 2008 its intention to cut its carbon dioxide emissions, Vale emitted – according to tis own figures – 20 million tons of CO2 in 2010, an increase of a third on 2007 levels (15 million tons),” said FoEI.

Moreover, FoEI also said that Vale has representatives both in the Brazilian government and the UN delegation who work hard to promote policies that “undermine global action on the climate crisis”.

Although Vale was able to create jobs for the impoverished in Itaqui-Bacanga, the company is actually causing more damage to the earth in the long run.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Global Issues, Friends of the Earth International
Photo: Panoramio

Over half of the world’s population is breathing in extremely polluted air every time they cook. The World Health Organization estimates that around three billion people cook and heat their homes with open fires and stoves with improper fumigation techniques.

The Global Burden of Disease Study (2010) found and documented the effects of various diseases around the world and found in effect that smog and pollution from cooking campfires is one of the top five causes of deaths around the globe every year. Such cases amount to upwards of four million deaths a year, which are more than the deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had the Clean Cookstoves Support Act introduced on March 10, 2014. Collins introduced the bill saying that, “It can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively and would improve lives, empower women and combat pollution around the world.” According to information provided from the senator’s official website, over half of the world’s population cooks over unsafe and unclean cookstoves. The Clean Cookstoves Support act, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durban (D-Ill.), is designed to help implement the utilization and acquisition of clean cookstoves for those in developing countries.

The act requires that the Secretary of State work closely with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and help to insure that the Alliance’s goals are coming to fruition. The Global Alliance was founded by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Nations with the goal of getting clean burning and effective cookstoves into 100 million homes by 2020. The Act also requires that several federal departments such as the State Department, the Department of Energy and others commit to securing funding for the Global Alliances for Clean Cookstoves mission. Sen. Collin’s website states that over $125 million dollars has already been committed for the Alliance.

The environmental impact from the burning of unclean fuel in stoves that are not working properly is also extremely hazardous to the world as a whole. Studies cited in the act (and by leading scientific authorities) show that cookstoves are contributing to a quarter of black carbon emissions around the world. Also, the average family uses around two tons of fuel in traditional cookstoves, which contributes to the deforestation of regions that can ill afford to lose precious natural resources. Replacing these cookstoves with more technologically up-to-date versions will save millions of lives as well as reduce the harmful impact that they exact on the environment every single day.

The Clean Cookstoves Support Act is an example of the type of progressive, forward-thinking legislation that can help those in need as well as benefit the entire globe with a relatively simple fix. The little act of making sure that a stove runs more efficiently and allows people all around the world to cook without endangering their health is a truly remarkable and wonderful thing.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: WHO, GovTrack, Susan Collins, NPR, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Photo: UN Foundation